Ghosts in Quicksilver: 2.6: Cognitive Dissonance

TW: dissociation, high stress symptoms, guilt/self-blame, discussion of delusions/mental illness, ableism

 

I was pretty annoyed that Will and Avery were insisting on accompanying me into my apartment, even if I – kind of – understood why. It’d been a long time since I’d freaked out that badly, and truthfully, for all that I was managing to look and act normal-ish again, I still wasn’t back together. I felt… exposed. Which was why I didn’t really want them here.

Somehow, though, I’d forgotten about Nathan.

“Oh, there you are!” He poked his head through the door of his room. “Do you make a habit of vanishing at night? Because I’m starting to wonder if I should be worried.”

I just stared at him until he quailed. “Sorry,” he said finally. “Not my business. There’s food if you want it, by the way.”

Avery lifted their hand. “Hey.”

“Oh, hi. Do I know you?”

They smiled, eyes sparkling with repressed humour. “No, not really.” He is never going to know I’m the one who took him to the hospital, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to enjoy it, they transmitted to me, and I snorted.

But –

But Jo wasn’t here.

I opened the door to my office. Nothing. She wasn’t… she wasn’t anywhere.

I had to not react. Nathan was right there. He’d notice. He didn’t know there were three of us living here, not two. But…

The image of the fading ghost sprung to mind, and I had to stuff my fist into my mouth not to scream. She wouldn’t – not if I wasn’t here, not now – but part of me still wondered. I’d been distant, a little cruel, walking away from her when I should have been listening.

And I’m sure you’ll stop if she turns out just to be hiding, part of me mocked in a quiet snarl. My bad habits were glued in place, but I still promised myself in panic that I’d try, I’d be a better sister. I just needed her back.

Avery came up beside me and said in a quiet voice, “Will’s texting Isaiah to see if she’s over there.”

“What?”

“She’s got somebody else she can talk to now, remember?” They gave me a gentle nudge with their elbow. “I guess you got used to it just being the two of you.”

I had, but I didn’t like admitting it. I still couldn’t get comfortable with this idea of a community, or the concept of my abilities being something that other people had. It felt cheap somehow, unearned entrance into something I didn’t want to be part of anyway. That wasn’t entirely true. I did want to be part of it. I just didn’t feel like I should be, or that I could handle it.

“Yeah, she’s over there,” Will said. “Want us to come with you?”

Stupid. It was so stupid, and they were both indulging me. “It’s fine. I’ll go. Where is it?”

“Um -” Will frowned. “Are you s-”

“Alta Vista,” Avery interrupted. “I’ll text you his address. Do you want me to drop you off?”

“Nah. I’ll walk. Need to clear my head anyway.”

Will scowled. “It’s like an hour walk, and it’s cold.

“It’s not that cold, and besides, you’ll call me if there’s trouble, right?” Avery fixed me with a stare and a raised eyebrow. You will, right? I won’t have to come find a Jamal-cicle?

“Right. I promise.” I was just relieved that Avery was letting me take some time.

“Alright. Will, why don’t you tell me what you two actually found out? I assume you actually went there for something.”

Yeah, it was best for everybody I wasn’t there for that conversation anyway. Avery really was fucking smart. I let myself out, shivering a little in the October wind; I hoped the walk would warm me up.

One foot in front of the other. I had my phone out for a bit, but the route made sense to me. What on earth did people do before Google Maps? I had to wonder. If I wanted, I could hop on a bus, but that meant trusting that I still had money on my Presto card, and it also meant dealing with people, even indirectly. The walk would clear my head. Something had to.

I came to a stop about halfway there, sitting down on a bench in Central Park as the ache in my legs suddenly got overwhelming. Usually I was fine for long walks, but the night spent in the broom closet had been pretty uncomfortable.

Christ. I hadn’t meant to freak out so bad about Jo. I just- You got used to it. You got used to being the only one somebody could talk to, the only one in their life, and them being the only one in yours that you cared about. Sure, I’d had friends in high school, if you counted people I’d seen every day and talked to. But I didn’t tell them things. I showed them memes and traded notes. I kept my head down at school and at home. And things had gotten better when I-

The guilt churned in my stomach. I shouldn’t even think it – should never have thought it. But after Johara’s accident I had put my head down and kept out of trouble, stopped getting in fights because a ghost didn’t need protecting…

…and the foster family after that one had stuck. Not forever. They still weren’t my family. But they’d stuck long enough to get me through Grade 11 and 12.

         I pressed the balls of my palms against my eyes. Focus, focus, focus. Find Johara then I’d be able to think straight and focus on the important stuff, stuff that wasn’t over and done with.

         “Here.”

         I moved my hands, staring at the cloth in front of me.

         “Never seen a handkerchief before?”

         I wasn’t sure how to say that no, I hadn’t because it was 2016 and nobody carried hankies, but instead, I just took it –

         And looked up into Kiera’s face.

         “Please don’t throw it at me,” she said placidly.

         “Well, now I won’t,” I snarked back. Every muscle in my body had tensed up without me realizing it, and I forced them to relax just enough to be useful. I could call Avery. I could attack her. I could-

         “I wanted to, um,” Kiera shifted her weight from one foot to the other, stuffing her hands in her pockets. She looked different, I realized. Younger, shorter, her eyes softer at the edges and jawbone not so stiff. “I wanted to apologize,” she mumbled.

         Say what.

         The hand I’d had in my pocket, creeping towards my phone, came to a stop. I wasn’t sure how to respond.

         She rubbed the back of her head, and I wondered if I was actually talking to the same person. All the big stuff was the same. Black hair, green eyes, long legs, washed-out white skin, drainpipe coat swishing around her combat boots. Everything else, though…

         “Just because you’re apologizing doesn’t mean I trust you. But… I’m listening.”

         Kiera sat down next to me on the bench, crossing one leg over the other. “I just wanted to talk to you. And I got, uh -”

         “Murderous? Psychotic?”

         She winced a bit. “The more I hear that word the less I like it.”

         … That was another one for the curiosity box. I knew plenty of people who avoided the word, but Kiera sounded like she’d barely heard it before now. “Okay, what are you trying to say?”

         “I didn’t…” She looked almost embarrassed. “I didn’t intend to hurt anybody, and I apologize.”

         “Nice. Where’d you copy that from?”

         She flushed, and I tried to stifle the bitter laugh. Of course it was just another bid for attention. For a moment she looked a little more like herself, green eyes flashing with unnatural light-

         But still, strangely quiet, strangely small. “They don’t do this where I’m from.”

         “Do what? Apologize.”

         She didn’t answer, which said plenty. Then when she finally opened her mouth again, her voice was flat and emotionless. “Sometimes I think things that aren’t true.”

         “So like everybody-”

         “No,” she interrupted. “Not like that.” She wasn’t looking at me. “Most of the time it’s fine. It’s only a problem sometimes. I just get things stuck in my brain and they won’t go away.”

         I narrowed my eyes. “Delusions?”

         “Is that what they’re called?”

         “I’m not the one to ask.” I paused, suddenly realizing that I still hadn’t run away. I couldn’t make myself accept Kiera’s supposed vulnerability at face value, and my hand was still in my pocket, centimeters from my phone. Curiosity, probably. An inability to make myself afraid of somebody who was sulking in – well, much the same way I was. There was self-pity and stubbornness here in spades, and even though they were miles apart in effect-

-man, I’d stolen my new friend’s phone to scratch some weird paranoid itch. I’d beaten the shit out of Avery out of random, unplanned fear.

         “Where are you from?” I asked finally. The desire to understand was winning out. I wanted to be scared of her, but I couldn’t, not when she looked and sounded like a real person. “You said you’re what, a faerie?”

         “Aes Sidhe,” she corrected. “But sure, let’s go with that.”

         “You’re a faerie, and I’m nothing.”

         She really did wince at that one. “…I shouldn’t have said that.” It sounded genuine enough.

         “How often do you do things you shouldn’t have?”

         “More often that I would like,” she replied, although so coldly I couldn’t interpret it. “And to answer your other question, I’m from the Unseelie Court. Court of chaos, ruin, death and decay.”

         Well. That was sure a lot of information that didn’t surprise me at all. I mean, I still needed some time to process the whole ‘faerie’ thing, and I didn’t know what an Unseelie was, but chaos, ruin, death and decay? Sounded like her.

         “Why are you apologizing to me?” I asked finally. “And why do you keep acting like you know me? It keeps feeling like…”

         “Like we’ve met before?” we said at the same time.

         A soft smile spread over Kiera’s pointed face, green eyes glimmering like dappled leaves. It was strange, the way her eyes shifted in… not colour, exactly, but shade and texture, like little windows into the soul, always burning that same hue. “What do you know about past lives?” she asked me.

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