I'm still not at my best, but I'm getting there, thanks to Casey. He took me to my therapy session, made sure I talked to one of the councilors.
I didn't go into detail with them, but I talked about the first ritual, and about the nightmares and finding out what was involved in such things. The councilor nodded knowingly and patted my shoulder.
"Blood magic can be a very disconcerting thing," she told me.
My eyes widened. Does everybody else know what I had to learn so... graphically?
She just smiled. "I council a lot of people," she told me gently. "And I've heard of a lot of things- what you've been through can be one of the most traumatic..."
"That's putting it mildly," I sighed.
"Honey... what happened to you, that wasn't your doing," She reminded me.
'At least not the first time,' I thought bitterly.
I nodded, and she smiled like, 'There... all better now.'
Casey was waiting for me, I could tell by his expression he was hoping the session had helped. It hadn't, not really. It probably would have helped before I went to Chicago- if only I'd known.
I think that's becoming my new catch phrase. Once again- I should have asked more questions.
Only now someone's dead because I didn't- maybe several someones.
Casey tried to get me to talk more about it, but what can I say? Anything I do won't be enough. Diaz freed me from one hell and delivered me to one of my own creation. And if I ever forget about it, Mario will be there to remind me.
I could tell that much by the look he gave me when we got back to the condo. Was it just a week ago that I had gotten the call, dropped everything- so full of hope and relief that I didn't think about the consequences.
And how would I be now if I hadn't gone? The reality is, no matter how bad things are, no matter what happened- I'm better because of it.
And that's the hell of it, I'm alive because of the spell- and... someone's dead. I wish I could take Diaz's point of view, it would be so much easier if I could- but then, I wouldn't be me anymore. So I live with the guilt.
I guess the key is that I live. If I self-destruct now, it was for nothing.
I just don't know anymore. Life is so much easier when I'm being the life line- everything is clearer then. There's no thought of the repercussions, only me, the docs and someone in need.
I just wish I could look Mario in the eyes. I don't think I ever will. I'm going to miss him.
Another day of physical and mental therapy- another day of wondering if I still have what it takes. The shrink says that being gun shy isn't unusual- but that I'll never know unless I try.
I say I screwed up- that this whole mess is somehow my fault and I better find a way to make it right. Thing is I can't, not for the people involved. They are beyond help- beyond caring. If I had lost them on my bus, that'd be one thing- but this...
I tried. I tried to stop it when I realized what was happening, but it was too late. It was too late when I boarded the plane. How many times can I say I'm sorry?
It doesn't matter, the people I need forgiveness from are out of reach and ... and I have to move on. Live with it, learn from it-
When Case picked me up I pretty much decided- I had to talk to Mario. I was terrified, but I was more scared about not talking to him. Even if he doesn't understand, even if he says he never wants to talk to me again- I need to know and I need to let him know.
Making up my mind to see him was harder than getting him to agree to see me. He knew- knew I'd gone against his advice, that I'd seen someone about what was done- that he'd done something about it.
Case has been beside me all the way- ever since I got back, but this- this is something I needed to do alone. I could see the look in his eyes, the one that said he wanted to handle this for me.
I wish I could. But then- I'd be taking the easy way out again. And that's not what's best- not in the long run.
In the end it took Case and Trina both to get him to agree to see me- and he insisted that Trina stay. That I confess my sins before both of them. He's determined to make me pay for what happened- I guess that's fine with me- I kinda feel the same way.
He yelled, he screamed- he all but cursed me when I told him what had happened. "I told you!" he growled. "I told you and you went anyway!"
"Told me..." I half sobbed. "You didn't really tell me anything! You said no good would come of it. That's it- no explanation, no how or why- I wanted information- anything and you walked out!"
"So now its my fault?" he demanded.
I shook my head. "No... I just... " I looked at him, wanting more than anything for him to understand. "I just wish... you'd told me... or that I'd known."
If I had known what was involved, I wouldn't have gone, but I went- like a lamb to the slaughter. I went so full of hope and found... the cure and the curse in one breath.
"What do you want from me?" he snarled.
"I don't know... forgiveness? Help?"
"Forgiveness is not mine to give," he finally said. "And- you are beyond my help now... "
His voice was cold- harsh. But the look in his eyes were the worst. They were tearing over... he knew he'd lost me... and I knew it too.
"I just... wanted you to know..." I finally told him and turned to go.
"No," Trina objected as if she'd finally found her voice. "You know she didn't know- you know she tried to stop it- Jess... "
I looked at her, surprised by the tears in her eyes. "Trina... it doesn't change the fact that... blood was shed... lives were lost... to make me whole... I can't bring them back... I can't- undo what was done... "
"But..." Trina's voice was soft yet determined.
"Let her go Trina- " Mario's voice was dead. "She is not... welcomed here."
It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do- but I had to do it. I can't undo what was done, but I can take responsibility for it.
Maybe then... I can learn to live with myself again.
I spent most of last night in Case's arms- just... being held. At least now I don't feel like I'm living a lie. He was a bit surprised when I asked him to take me to Council Island.
"I need to tell the Walkers," I said softly.
He was worried that I'm burning my bridges- but I've realized that if they are to last- I have to be honest with the people I care about. They need to know. The Walkers, Mario- they opened their lives and hearts to me- they deserve nothing less than the truth.
Mike was so happy to see me, but when he looked in my eyes, he knew I wasn't there to watch cartoons. He was the last one I ever wanted to hurt and I didn't want him to - think less of me. I've gotten so used to having him as my little brother- the Walker's as my family.
That's why it hurts so much- and why I have to do it. Maybe- maybe I'm trying to purge myself by isolating myself- giving up all that I love and enjoy... to suffer, punish myself for what has happened.
But the Walkers wouldn't turn their backs on me. Mike hugged me... and remembered all the guilt he felt over his sister's death. It hadn't been his fault, I'd told him that- now he was telling me the same thing.
Mrs. Walker, bless her took me aside and told me to come back tomorrow- that she would have something prepared for me- an act of atonement. She warned me that it would not be easy, not be pleasant- but it was just what I needed.
I could see the love in her eyes- she's not letting me go without a fight. "None of us are perfect," she said softly. "And we all lose our ways- the key to is to find it again, and to continue on- wise for the knowledge we have gained."
It gave me something to think about when Casey took me home, and I saw the closed door down the hall. 'We all lose our ways...' I sighed to myself. 'Someday- I will find my way back Mario... I promise.'
I woke up early and watched the sunrise from the balcony. Casey was still asleep, so I made him breakfast. It wasn't as nice as the ones he cooked for me- but it smelled good. I brought it to him in bed.
"What's this?" he asked teasingly. "Breakfast in bed?"
I smiled. "I guess so..."
He held out an arm for me and I snuggled next to him as he attacked the plate.
"Nothing for you?"
"Fasting," I answered. "Mrs. Walkers' orders."
He nodded and proceeded to polish off the plate. "I'm glad..." he said softly. He could see the change in me- I think that's when it hit me too- I was living again.
Life does go on- if we're lucky.
Once he'd eaten and showered, Case took me back over to the Walkers. I didn't know what to expect, but it definitely wasn't what waited for me. The Walkers were dressed rather somberly- like they were for the funeral.
It's what it was too- for me. I was lost, and they were mourning. Jonathan acted as my guide, showing me where I was to go- translating the elders' instructions. They had taken things from many different cultures and used them to create- a road for me to follow- to purge myself of my sins, to find my way back to where I belonged, and to atone for what I had done.
I can't really describe it- I mean, what I actually did wasn't that physically challenging but... emotionally it was the hardest thing I have ever endured. I faced that night- Diaz, the ganger- Raz...Mario
They were all there in my mind, every step of the way. In the sweat lodge they were my constant tormentors. Raz's hatred, Mario's recrimination- the ganger.. His eyes pierced me to the core. But then there were others- lifting me up, bringing me home.
When I was finally aware of my surroundings again, I was laid out in the middle of the Walkers' people. They were there with Case and Trina, but there was no sign of Mario. I bowed my head- but this wasn't about him it was about me- about my path.. About my atonement.
Again, it is not the end, it never is- it's the beginning and I promised myself, and the image of the ganger that I would do my best to make it worth while.
I like to think he understood- that perhaps my salvation is his as well.
I may not be back all the way yet, but I'm getting there. The gangers were never found, or if they were, nobody thought anything of it.
Casey asked me about Diaz- but there was nothing I could tell him. He nodded. He understood for the most part, but I could see- he wanted to do something to Diaz for what I'd gone through- but Diaz'd tried to protect me from it he wasn't the one who'd put me in the position in the first place, and he didn't force me onto the plane. That was my own doing. Diaz had taken it from there.
He knew what I needed even though I wasn't willing to go through with it. He did what he had to do to protect me- to save me. For him it was simple mathematics, for me...
For me it was a long road back and I'm still trying to get there. With my friends, and determination- I will make it.
We were on our way down to the car when we found Mario- he was confrontational... it took me a minute, but I noticed the way he was holding himself... he was leaning to his left, trying to support himself.
I tried to call to him but all he could remember was that he was angry at me.
"Don't need you!" he growled as I helped him to the ground. Case recognized his symptoms the same time I did. Together we tried to keep him calm.
"Leave me alone!" he growled as he tried to fight his way free of the both of us.
I looked at Case, but he was already calling an ambulance, that left me to work on Mario.
"Mario," I called, but again he was pushing me aside.
"Go ... away!" his speech slurred as he tried once again to get away from me.
I told him that he needed me, and he told me that he'd rather be dead.
It was like me with Diaz, he knew what I needed and I would have chosen death before that- now Mario was faced with the same thing, and I wasn't going to let him die.
I was grateful when he passed out. He may have refused our help when he was conscious, but as soon as he wasn't, I was allowed to do everything possible to save him. And that's exactly what Case and I did.
I don't know if he'll ever forgive me for what's happened, but at least he'll have a long time to hate me for what I've done.
The doctors say that Mario is going to be all right, that we'd gotten him in in time. They've got a healer with him now- trying to undo the damage time and poor care have done to his heart. I tried to comfort Trina, but she glowered at me.
I backed away, surprised. I'd thought she'd understood, maybe she understood too well. I'd saved Mario's life, but- but he wasn't fighting because I'd been the one to do it.
"Do you know what you've done?" She demanded.
"Would you rather I had let him die?" I asked finally. "You know I couldn't do that... not now, not ever!"
She shook her head, but I could see the conflict: I'd saved him, but because I had- he didn't want to live. It was me and Diaz again.
Mario hated me for what I'd done- and now, I'd saved his life, something I wouldn't have been able to do if I hadn't gone to Chicago. Still, I know how he feels- and I know there's nothing I can say or do that will help him. He's going to have to figure that out on his own.
Life, ain't it grand?
Case says its poetic, I think its just vindictive.
I've been cleared to start back to work on Monday, which is just as well, since Casey's just about out of personal time. Part of me feels really bad that he's spending all his free time with me, but another part is very pleased.
Besides, once I'm working- neither of us are going to have much time to do much more than collapse.
Since Casey had to report into work, I had him drop me off that the arcade. I figure that since I'm only cleared for 'normal' work that I still have a few weeks before they'll let me back out on the motorcycle. That means I need some sort of practice, and they still have the simulator setup there.
'Motomedic!' is still doing really well at the arcade.
I was glad to see that. PC came over to see me and asked if I had anything new for him to simulate.
"Not unless you want to do a stalker game," I sighed.
He chuckled until he realized I was serious. "Wanna tell me 'bout it?" he asked.
"Not too much to tell," I said softly. I gave him the news feed version and he nodded.
"So... tell me the rest of it," he said with a wry smile.
That took me by surprise. I stared at him, but he just chuckled and handed me a datajack.
"Jess," he told me. "If you're going to keep on like this... at least let me show you where to go for information..."
He proceeded to introduce me to Shadowland, a great reference for information on everything I'd come up against and what I could expect. It had been there all the time, if I'd know where to look.
The information was biased, sometimes contradictory, irreverent even. But, it was there. Some of it had a definite slant to it, but all told it was everything I wished I'd known before it had clobbered me. And it was sitting there in annotated black and white.
PC had to take me into the section I really needed- the one on Atzlan. What I read made my blood chill. It was all too close to home. I downloaded the information so I could read it- and learn.
First rule of combat- know your enemy.