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A spear. There is a spear hurtling through the air towards her, making a whistling noise that echoes in her ears.

Kaia can do what she always does, can run away, but the spear is headed towards Claire, her new friend—maybe more, if they had the chance—, and the only person who’d ever understood her. Instead of running, she pushes Claire out of the way, taking her place.

When the blade pierces Kaia’s skin, pain flares through every inch of her, making her fall to the ground, her vision blurring. It’s even worse than in her dreams, when creatures tore at her with unkind claws. Kaia opens her mouth to cry out or scream, she isn’t sure which–

“Kaia, Kaia, are you with me?” A familiar voice asks, soft and feminine.

Kaia blinks, and light floods her eyes. She focuses on a ketchup stain on a gray linoleum table in front of her.

A hand gently taps her shoulder and she startles, before leaning into the touch as the familiar, metallic scent of gunpowder and leather sweeps over her. Claire is sitting next to her, eyebrows drawn down, looking at her in worry. Claire’s blonde curls stand out sharply against her black leather jacket. She’s a warm line against Kaia’s side, and Kaia looks down to see that their knees are gingerly knocking together.

The booth seat she and Kaia are sitting on is comfy, the material an awfully bright red that hurts her eyes the longer she stares at it. The sound of an Elvis song echoes in her ears, and Kaia looks around wildly. She’s in a diner, a small one, with a long table with metal stools in front of it in the middle of the room, and a row of booths off to the side. People dot the diner, ten or so of them, one a man wearing a dark coat, and another a girl in a blue blouse. All of them are alone, and all of them have their backs turned to her so Kaia doesn’t get much of their features.

Claire’s knee knocks against hers again, and Kaia’s struck by the sudden thought that it’s odd they’re sitting next to each other instead of across the table from each other. Why is– Oh, right. The memory comes back to her. The other booth had a coffee stain on its cushion, and Kaia and Claire had unanimously agreed to sit side by side. That still doesn’t explain the rest of it. Where she is. Why she’s with Claire. Why she’s alive.

“Kaia, are you sure you’re al–”

“Umm, yes,” Kaia says, because she doesn’t want to arouse Claire’s suspicions until she has a handle on what the heck is going on.

“If you say so,” Claire says. She doesn’t look any less concerned, but at least she’s stopped pressing. “So, while we wait for our food to arrive do you want to go over the details of the case again?”

“Case?” Kaia echoes back.

“Yeah, the case. The whole reason we’re out here in this middle-of-nowhere diner in this middle-of-nowhere Illinois town.”

The more Claire speaks, the more the memories come rushing back to Kaia, rolling over her like a hurricane, sweeping her off her feet with its intensity.

Kaia remembers Jody getting a call from a woman she helped out with a wendigo a couple years back. The woman frantically said there was a ghost haunting the gas station she was manager of, and could Jody please come and check it out? And since Jody was just heading off to take care of a case with Patience, she handed it off to Claire.

Most of all, Kaia remembers the warmth in Claire’s voice when she asked Kaia to join her. Claire phrased it as her needing Kaia, trusting Kaia to have her back, but Kaia knew she was just taking the opportunity to show Kaia the ropes. Either option made Kaia feel happy and wanted, like she belonged in a way she hadn’t ever felt before.

“Kaia, sweetie, I’m really starting to worry about you,” Claire says, and Kaia tunes back in. “You would tell me if you were having your nightmares again, right?”

“Yes,” Kaia says quickly. Too quickly, judging by Claire’s squint.

“Well, if your period is being a bitch, I don’t mind setting you up in our motel room with some TV and takeout for lunch later while I go by myself and—”

“No, no, I’ll stay with you,” Kaia says. She’s too relieved she remembers what Claire’s talking about to answer anything different. Kaia runs a hand over her face, trying to bring her thoughts back to hunting. “So, uh, any clue for who the ghost could be? Do we know if anyone who died recently had ties to that gas station?”

Claire smiles, turning around for a second, and when she turns to face Kaia once more there’s a manila folder in her hands, similar to the ones they have on those CSI shows. “There’s two possible ghosts,” Claire begins. “I did a bit of research on the way up here. Thanks for driving, by the way. Back in the seventies, a Harold Abram and Ralph Jacob both lived in the town and were regulars at the gas station.”

“Wait, you got all that in such a short amount of time?” Kaia asks, impressed.

“Yep, and there’s more. Get this: apparently both died under mysterious circumstances, and their bodies were never discovered.”

Claire’s voice fades to a gentle drone, which is quickly replaced by a dull, resounding silence that Kaia can feel thumping deep in her chest.

Kaia’s eyelids are closed, somehow, and it’s dark up against them, so very unlike the atmosphere of the diner, with sunlight fluttering in through the windows. She opens her eyes, and what she sees isn’t much better—a darkness so thick it feels as if a blanket of snow is bearing down on her. Kaia squints, and she can almost make out the hazy shape of a tree before it becomes too tiring to keep her eyes open.

The oily smell of fast food hits her nose, and a petite voice says, “An order of bacon, eggs, and toast.”

Kaia blinks. She’s back at the diner, and a brunette waitress stands expectantly in front of their table, her hands overladen with a plate of food. More than the food, Kaia’s eyes are drawn to the large, thick-rim glasses she’s wearing, obscuring most of her face.

“Umm,” Kaia says intelligently.

“Oh that’s me,” Claire says. “And the waffles are for my girlfriend.”

Kaia nods along, accepting the plate of waffles the waitress puts in front of her with a graceful sigh and small smile. Waffles have always been her favorite breakfast food. Her mom used to make peanut-butter waffles back before… before everything. Kaia pushes the bad memory away in favor of focusing on drizzling an extensive amount of syrup on her waffles. She has a piece on her fork, raising it halfway to her mouth, when she fully processes what Claire said. “Wait, girlfriend?”

Claire wraps her hand around three pieces of bacon and guzzles them down at once. “Yeah, we’ve been dating for a few months, babe. I hope you remember, seeing as you were the one to ask me out.”

It’s not that Kaia minds being Claire’s girlfriend. Kaia didn’t really think about boyfriends or girlfriends or much of anything before Claire came around, and then she wanted it all. It’s just, Kaia would like to at least remember… Kaia’s eyes widen as the memory hits her with the force of a bullet. Or, more fittingly, a spear.

After Kaia was wounded, Claire swept her up in her arms, Superman-style, and carried her through the rift. Claire brought her to a faith healer, and for the next couple days she drifted in and out of consciousness, not sure what was real and what was a dream. Kaia remembers, clear as day, waking up to Claire sitting in a chair beside her bed, and asking if she was an angel, and Claire laughing, and Kaia leaning over to kiss her, so very happy to be alive. When Claire kissed her back it felt like she was still dreaming.

“Oh. Right. Umm. No, I was just… checking to make sure you remembered,” Kaia says, blushing.

“M’hmm.” Claire frowns at her, shoving another piece of bacon in with the mouthful she’s already chewing. It’s gross, but somehow also endearing.

A gust of wind curls down her spine, and Kaia pulls her jacket closer around herself. It’s a green leather, reminding her of a hunter’s jacket. It’s certainly not something she would buy herself. Kaia chances another look at Claire. “Hey, umm, can you remind me” is all Kaia gets out before she’s thrown into the darkness again.

Now she can make out that it’s a forest. The one from her nightmares, though a part of it she’s never been in before. Terror seizes her chest, tightening her throat, making it more difficult to breathe—to think—of anything other that I can’t be here again, I can’t, I thought I got out, I’d rather die than be here, I’m so scared, there’s no one to protect me.

Kaia struggles to get away, to run, but when she tries to move her arms she finds there's rope wrapped around her wrists, binding her to the bark of a tree. The tree is identical to the one in her nightmares that a creature held her against as it tore at her back with its talons.

No no no Kaia repeats in her head; a desperate prayer. Her breathing becomes heavier and heavier, and when she hears the snap of a twig nearby her neck snaps towards the sound, her panic increasing tenfold. It’s a relief when her eyes roll back in her head.

Kaia wakes to the gentle hum of an engine, and a seat belt tight around her chest, the metal of its buckle warm against her palm. It’s too tight, too enclosing, too close to the ropes in her nightmares. She unfastens the seat belt.

The vinyl seat is black, and she’s just staring at it, at the dashboard and steering wheel that are also black, and the familiar hand curled around the wheel, when it registers in her brain. She’s in the passenger seat of Claire’s truck, the ugly orange one Claire liked to take on hunts. A smile pulls at Kaia’s lips as she remembers offering to drive the way there, and Claire checking to make sure she had her license, then tossing the keys over. The easiness with which Claire trusted her makes her feel more warm than she’s ever felt before.

The smile slides off Kaia’s face just as quickly as it appeared. She can’t let Claire know that her nightmares have returned, and more powerful than ever, not with how much Claire has done for her and how disappointed Claire would be.

Speaking of Claire, she’s in the driver’s seat of the truck, looking at her expectantly, smile fixed on her face. They’re holding hands, palms pressed together, and it’s… nice. It feels all at once like they’ve never held hands before and that they’ve been holding hands since forever.

“What is it?” Kaia asks, trying to sort through her thoughts. Everything is overwhelming, and she doesn’t know what to do, what to think, what’s real anymore.

Claire ducks her head and looks at the wheel. “Nothing,” she says, still smiling. She pulls the keys out of the ignition, opens her door, and gets out. Kaia follows her lead.

There’s no other cars in the lot, just a row of gas pumps. Kaia’s heartbeat roars in her ears. This is wrong, she can’t help but think. She’s unnerved further when Claire looks over the top of the truck at her, smile still fixed on her face. “It’s just that this is your first case. And I’m–I’m happy you’re here. I’m proud of you, babe.” It’s not her words that unsettle Kaia, but her smile. It’s too wide, showing too many teeth, the tilt of her lips straight instead of crooked. It’s one Kaia wouldn’t have realized was off if she hadn’t been paying attention so closely.

Kaia swallows harshly. “Well I’m happy to be here too.”

Claire hums in agreement as she makes her away around the car. She stops a foot in front of Kaia, a handgun loose in her hand. Kaia stares at it for a long moment. “Are you going to grab it?” Claire asks.

Kaia takes it after a moment of hesitation. The gun is heavy and unfamiliar in her hands.

“It’s loaded with rock salt,” Claire says, which makes Kaia feel a bit better. At least I won’t shoot off my foot.

“And don’t worry, I've got your back.” Claire goes on, her smile still giving Kaia all kinds of bad vibes.

“Are you two lovebirds done?” A voice calls out, tone crotchety.

Claire’s eyes are fixated on a point over Kaia’s shoulder, and Kaia turns around to see a woman standing at the doorway of the Gas-N-Sip. Inias is older than Kaia had been expecting from Jody’s description, in her late fifties, and her blue uniform looks to be as ancient as she is. She’s black, with her curly brown hair up in a bun. Her hands are on her hips. Her stance, posture and the slightly disapproving look on her face reminds Kaia so much of her grandmother that it hurts.

“Oh, we’re done,” Kaia says, answering the woman’s earlier question. She spares a quick glance at Claire, who’s looking down at her feet, seeming embarrassed.

“Good. Because I have a ghost that needs to be taken care of and I’m not paying you to fuck around and stare at each other all day.”

Kaia stares at Inias for a second, surprised by her swearing. Nevermind. She’s the complete opposite of her grandmother.

“You aren’t paying us at all,” Claire mutters, loudly, and Inias doesn’t say anything, so she must be nice enough—or smart enough—to pretend she hadn't heard.

“Well the Ghostbusters started out small too,” Kaia whispers, and she’s proud when Claire laughs in response.

Inias turns and heads back into her store. Kaia and Claire exchange a look, then scurry after her.

On first glance, the gas station seems ordinary. To the right are rows of shelves stocked with your usual chips and drinks and ugly novelty T-shirts. The floors are a hideous yellow and the whole store smells faintly of mildew and mold. Kaia’s noses feels like there’s a feather tickling it; she sneezes without meaning to.

Frowning and rubbing at her nose, Kaia examines the side of the store closest to her, which has the checkout counter. There’s magazines stacked on a rack on the wall behind the register and gum on the counter. Kaia squints at the magazines. She could swear that none of them have text on them, just squiggly little lines. Then she blinks and they’re normal. She’s about to go investigate it further when everything goes black again.

She’s still tied to the tree, but now there’s a cloaked figure a few feet in front of her; the one that killed her. Its cloak is pitch black, with a big hood, and there are long ribbons of black fabric wrapped around its face, underneath its hood. The spear is nowhere in sight.

“What do you want from me?” Kaia demands, trying to speak evenly despite her rising panic.

The figure just stands there, not speaking, then, slowly, two hands going up to frame its face, unpeeling its mask like a long bandaid. The face is one Kaia’s very familiar with, the one she sees every time she chances looking in a mirror. It’s her, but a warped, twisted version, judging by the sneer on other-Kaia’s face. A few months ago Kaia might’ve been surprised by this. Now she just wants to get away.

“I want you to go. To. Sleep,” other-Kaia says.

Kaia stares her her, mouth agape. “Huh?”

“I’m doing you a mercy by giving you that dream, a family, all you’ve ever wanted. So take it, and stop waking up.”

“None–none of that was real?”

“No, but wouldn’t you rather be there than here? Isn’t a dream better than a nightmare?” Other-Kaia sneers. “But that’s the thing, isn’t it? You’re too broken to accept happiness when it lands in your lap.”

Kaia slumps a little, not able to find it in her to argue with that. Other-Kaia raises her hand and presses the palm of it to Kaia’s forehead; everything goes black.

The door bangs shut and Kaia whips her head around at the sudden noise, only untensing when she sees that it’s Claire shuffling fully into the store.

Claire gives her a sheepish smile. This isn’t real, none of this is real, Kaia sternly reminds herself. She should’ve known, because it’s too good to be true. There’s no way Claire would like her, with all her scars and broken edges.

Kaia’s not sure she even wants to get out. She’s so tired. It would be easier to give in and let herself be happy for the first time in a long time, as fake as that happiness is.

Even if it kills her this dream would have been worth it. There are worse ways to go.

“So here’s my Gas-N-Sip,” Inias says, gesturing around. “I know it ain’t much, but it’s what I have. It was my dad’s before he–” She makes a cutting motion across her throat. Kaia blinks, not sure how to respond.

Inias is standing a few feet away, hands in pockets, under the only ceiling lamp in the whole place that seems be working fully, as all the others are either flickering or out entirely. It adds an eerie, yellow glow to her face. “The ghost showed up a few months ago, out of the blue. He hasn’t killed anyone, at least not yet, don’t seem to be the type, but it did scare two of my employees so bad they quit, and I hardly get any customers nowadays. It’s been rough.”

“I’m sorry about that, ma'am,” Kaia says, giving her a comforting smile. Inias scoffs. Kaia looks to Claire for backup, but Claire instead rolls her eyes, and Kaia’s thrown for a loop. Kaia isn’t sure if Claire isn’t as sympathetic as she usually is because this is a fake version of her, or if–if Kaia really doesn’t know her as much as she thought she did.

Kaia sees Claire reach down and pull out her gun from its holster, heaving it up with two arms. Claire wields it skillfully, like she’s known it her whole life. Kaia looks around the space; there's no ghost in sight. “So where can we find this Mr…”

“Mr. Ralph Jacob,” Inias supplies. “He spends most of his time in the bathroom, actually. God knows why.” Abruptly, she turns on her heel and starts walking. The shelves are so tall that Kaia can just see the peek of her hair as she speedwalks across the shop floor. Or maybe Inias is just short. Being in a dream skews reality, just a bit.

Inias stops a foot in front of a green-painted door with a moldy-looking brown spot on it at eye level that must’ve been where a sign was, long ago.

She turns and faces them. “Actually, the first time I saw this ghost was when I was sat atop the toilet, reading the morning newspaper. Then he came out of the mirror, lunged at me. I probably would’ve shit my pants in fright, if I hadn’t already, you know,” she gestures at the front of her pants.

Kaia blinks.

“That’s wise,” Claire says after a long moment of silence.

“Well, here goes nothing,” Inias says, as she puts a hand on the door handle and wrenches it open.

Kaia cranes her neck as she looks inside, eyes scanning over the tiny space. A toilet is squished in one corner and a sink and mirror with a long crack in the corner of it was crammed in at the other end. Yet there's still no ghost.

“Should we, uh, summon—” is all Kaia gets out before a shiver runs through her, and a faint shimmer passes over the cracked mirror. The man that climbs out wouldn’t look out of place in a silent film, with poofy dark hair and striped overalls. The slightest glow around him is the only giveaway that he’s a ghost.

He’s frowning, shoulders drooping as he looks at them. Then his eyes slide over Kaia to Claire standing behind her, and a smile blossoms on his face. Kaia turns to look at Claire, curious as to why he’s so happy. There’s a determined look in Claire’s eye, and she’s holding the gun stiffly in her hands. Kaia frowns.

Speaking out of the corner of her mouth, Kaia says, “Slow down there, Claire. Remember, we wanted to talk to him first.” Kaia turned, offering the ghost a sympathetic smile.

Kaia can hear Claire’s snort from over her shoulder, and she’s about to turn and give her a confused look, wondering why she’s acting so mean, when the man clears his throat and says, “Are you hunters?”

“In training,” Kaia says automatically, and then her brain catches up with herself and she adds, “wait, you know what hunters are?”

“You would hope I did, seeing as I was a hunter, back when I was alive,” Ralph says.

Kaia’s heart jumps. “What?”

“They still call it that, right? I put down things that went bump in the night, ghosts, werewolves, vamps. I even married a fellow hunter, Elena, and we had a couple of happy years together before a wendigo got her and I followed soon after.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s alright, I’ve made my peace with it. I just would like to join her up to Heaven, so do you think you could help me find what’s tying me to this place and get there?”

“Okay,” Kaia says, her voice echoing back to her.

Kaia’s side is cold, and wet. She blinks open her eyes and sees a dirty, dark, forest floor spread out before her. Kaia’s wrists are unbound, and when she lifts her hands in front of her eyes she finds them caked with mud. What’s going on? she thinks through the dizzying haze. Where’s the other me? Why am I not tied up?

Kaia finally thinks to get herself to her feet, and she breathes out real slow, then musters up all the strength she can, puts two hands flat against the ground, and pushes herself up. Or at least, she tries to. She falls flat on her face. There’s a leaf stuck to her cheek that she brushes away with a hand, scowling.

She hears footsteps padding behind her, leaves crunching in their wake, and a spike of fear sweeps through her. No, no, it can’t be her, hasn’t she tortured me enough? Kaia would try and drag herself away if she wasn’t so tired.

But the hand that comes down and cups her chin is gentle, fingers warm. Kaia knows instantly that it’s Claire, the real her, because her presence feels like no other. And when Claire comes into her field of vision, her familiar scar standing out against her forehead, her cheeks flushed and hair in a messy, tangled, ponytail, jeans ripped, Kaia suddenly realizes why the Claire of her dream feels so off. Because it’s just that—a dream. An unrealistic, hyper-perfect dream. And Kaia loves this version of Claire better, with all her broken edges and messy lines and jagged scars.

“Kaia, Kaia, you have to stay with me,” Claire says. Kaia has to strain to hear her, and it feels like she’s underwater. Voice just this edge of pleading, Claire adds, “I can’t lose you again.”

And Kaia wants to stay with her. She wants to more than she’s ever wanted anything else before. But against Kaia’s will her vision goes blurry, the ground rushing up to meet her.

Immediately Kaia hears a gunshot and she flinches. It’s Ralph who’s been shot, she realizes, blown away in a cloud of smoke by one of Claire’s salt rounds.

Kaia rounds on Claire. Kaia’s upset, and her hands are curled into fists. “Claire, what are you doing?” She asks, voice trembling. She feels like there’s something she should remember, something more important, but all she can think about is that Claire just shot this nice ghost for no reason whatsoever, and it’ll be a couple of minutes until he returns.

Claire is still holding onto the gun with two hands. “I’m solving the case. It’s best to not have him around while we try to figure out what’s tying him here,” Claire says, shrugging. “He’s no different from the rest of them. He’s a monster.”

Kaia staggers back as though she’s been slapped. Her back hits something, and it takes her several seconds to realize it’s the sink in the bathroom. Claire and Inias are staring at her in confusion, similar expressions on their faces, blocking the entrance to the bathroom, and Kaia feels closed in, like there’s nowhere to run. This isn’t right, she thinks. If Claire’s calling this ghost a monster then… what does she really think of me?

“Are you going to get on with the case?” The old woman interrupts her thoughts.

“No, what–this is wrong!” Kaia stutters out, holding her hands up in front of herself, palms faced outward, as if to fend them off.

“You really should focus on the case, babe,” Claire says, all warmth gone from her voice.

Kaia almost jumps out of her skin when she hears another “Kaia” to her right, and she looks over to see Ralph crouched in the other corner of the bathroom, his hands raised over his head, palms faced outwards, a frightened look on his face.

“I’m dealing with too much right now. I’m not sure I can handle you on top of that. Could you go somewhere else for a min—”

She’s interrupted by the man letting out an ear-piercing scream. Kaia stares at him, eyes wide, feeling as scared as he looks. Then, within seconds he stills, his face expressionless.

What. Is. Going. On.

“Kaia, Kaia, it’s me, Claire,” the ghost says, sounding exactly like Claire, and Kaia doesn’t know what kind of mindheckery this is. “Can you hear me?”

All the pieces fall into place. Kaia is in a dream. The Claire here is way different from the real one, because she isn’t her. And the real Claire is over there in the bad place, trying to save her. Kaia feels like an enormous weight has been lifted from her chest at finally remembering. “Yes, I’m here. I can hear you!”

“Oh wait, Rowena’s telling me this is only a one-way thing. And that I don’t have a ton of time because Charlie won’t be able to hold the rift open for much longer,” Claire says. “I need you to do something for me, okay? I need you to wake up from that dream.”

“Don’t listen to her,” Claire insists; the Claire from her dream. “There’s nothing for you there. You don’t honestly think she cares about you, do you? But I do.”

Kaia is afraid to leave this dream, where everything is perfect and happy and Claire likes her. Even if Claire’s behaving a little cold at the moment, well, they can always go back to how it was before. In real life, though, if Claire hates her, thinks she’s a monster… Kaia doesn’t know what she’ll do.

“Wouldn’t it be easier to just give in and stay asleep?” Claire continues.

And then there’s that. Kaia is so tired of running. Of being terrified of falling asleep at the end of each day, because of her nightmares, always thinking what if this is it? What if they finally get me this time? Every time she looked in a mirror she could see the bags under her eyes growing bigger. She was always on alert and checking around the corner for monsters. If I stayed here, it wouldn’t be too bad. At least

“Kaia, please, I need you,” Claire’s voice says, and Kaia looks over at the ghost once more. Now his expression goes along with what he’s saying; his eyebrows are turned down, and his eyes are wide, like he is—Claire is—pleading with her.

Claire needing her, though, doesn’t mean she cares about her, as much as Kaia wants to believe it does. Maybe Claire needs her to open another rift somewhere for a hunter; needs Kaia only for her powers. Why did it take Claire so long to find her, after all? It feels like Kaia has been here for months, maybe years.

“I’m running out of time,” Claire says urgently. “Please wake up, I know you can. And I want you here, with me.”

Kaia freezes.

Oh.

Claire wants her there. Want is different than need. Want is desire and fondness and love. The strength trickles back to Kaia’s limbs, her constant tiredness now only a dull ache. She’s found something to believe in again, because Claire believes in her.

“I’m coming, Claire,” Kaia says, even though Claire can’t hear her. “I’m coming home.” She channels that strength into something physical, until the veins on her palms glow with a delicate red light, and she thinks, I want to wake up. I want to go home. The last thing Kaia sees before she’s gone is Inias and Claire’s faces twisted into expressions of sadness. She unexpectedly feels a pang of sorrow.

Kaia expects to be cold when she wakes up. But she’s not, because Claire’s hands are wrapped loosely around her shoulders, and when Kaia opens her eyes, shifting and groaning, Claire’s breath puffs warmly against her face as she asks, “Kaia?”

“Yeah, it’s me,” she says groggily.

Without another word, Claire pulls her into a hug. Kaia stiffens at first, but then relaxes. Kaia doesn’t know the last time she got a hug. And it’s nice, nice every way being in the dream world wasn’t. The hug is just a bit too tight, and warm. Claire’s hair is ticklish against her nose and mouth in a way that makes her want to sneeze, but Kaia wouldn’t change it for anything. It’s perfect.

Claire mutters from where her face is buried deep in the curve of Kaia’s neck, “I thought I lost you. I don’t know if I could go through that again.”

Kaia doesn’t know what to say to that. So instead she holds onto Claire tighter.

The hug is over soon, too soon. Claire doesn’t fully pull away, though. She puts her hands in Kaia’s, and Kaia lets Claire pull her to her feet. Kaia still feels a little weak. She sways on her feet and has to partly lean on Claire for support, but it’s better than before.

“As much as I’d like to hug you for longer, I wasn’t lying when I said we didn’t have a lot of time,” Claire says. One of her hands is still clasped in Kaia’s, and Kaia lets Claire gently pull her through the forest. “Charlie and Rowena, who I just realized you haven’t met yet and who I’ll have to introduce you to, have the dark version of you tied up in our world. We can’t kill her because that would kill you, and I can’t have that. So once you’re safe we’ll decide what to do with her.”

“I can’t thank you enough, Claire,” Kaia says quietly. Being free of the other Kaia, being free of her nightmares? Sounded like a dream too good to be true.

“Oh, it’s not a problem! Thank you for waking up,” Claire says, and when Kaia looks over she sees a smile quirking at the other girl’s lips.

They’re almost at the rift now, and Kaia can see it across the clearing, neon orange and fluctuating. As they run towards it, Kaia looks wildly around the clearing, waiting for a monster to come creeping out of the shadows. But nothing does, and she lets out a shaky exhale as they rush closer to the breach.

The rift is now only a foot away; Kaia would touch it if she reached an arm out. Claire takes another step towards it, then turns back and looks at Kaia. Her palm is sweaty. “See? I said I’d protect you. And I won’t ever break that promise.” Kaia smiles in response, then they’re stepping through the portal, towards the next chapter of their lives.