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The Mallone Awakening

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He didn't know how long he stood there, and he didn't think to care.  He tossed the ashes down slowly, handful by handful, almost reluctant to let her go.  Then after the urn was empty he just lingered, watching the last specks float down to the water and fade into thin air.  Until there wasn't anything left of her to see.  Or touch.

Regaining touch was an interesting process.  For the most part, it felt like getting back on a bike; something familiar in the back of his mind he hand't had the chance to exercise in almost eighty years.  But it was hard to get out of the habit of shoving his hands in his pockets, as he wasn't used to having anything to do with them.  He brushed the elbows of nearly every Jack and Jane he crossed paths with on his way back to the apartment.  Before he had just phased right through them, so it hadn't mattered.  But now he was feeling the other arms against his, and murmurs of apologies fell from his mouth at every block.

He kept her apartment keys in his right pocket, clenched in his fist.  He'd miraculously convinced the landlord to let him take up a lease for the time being.  He'd also gotten quite the strange look when he said he didn't want any of the furniture from the previous tenant removed, but he didn't care.  Any part of her he could keep pristine, he would.  Or as least as pristine as he could; she hadn't been much of a neat freak.  In the few short days it had been since the battle at Grace Church, he hadn't procured much in the way of a job, so he didn't know what he would do when the landlord came knocking for rent, but he hardly cared.  He'd stay there as long as he was able.  It was just as much his home as it had been hers.

When he walked through the front door and was greeted by the tacky, yet strangely comforting pink wallpaper, he felt a twinge of pain in his head.  Pain was also something to get used to again.  There was a pulsing in his temple; a headache.  He winced.  It had been a rather long day.  He just needed to relax.

So, sinking himself down into the couch, he tried in vain to teach himself even the smallest nugget of information as to how to work the television.  Why on Earth where there so many goddamn buttons on the remote?  Whatever happened to good old dials?  And why did he have to hold it seventeen different ways just to get the screen to respond?

But the more he fiddled with the thing, his headache only intensified.  Maybe Red had left some ibuprofen laying around.

Passing through her bedroom to the bathroom always left him unsettled.  The one place in the four years they had been together he had never seen, and now that he did...he almost felt he wasn't allowed to.

But he looked anyway.  Anything to keep her memory from fading.

Red's room was basically an oversized closet, so she hadn't done much with it, but it still had her elements.  Piles of books stashed under the bed.  The color and style of the bedspread.  The cheap knick-knack art hanging on the walls.  Yet another tag sale lava lamp placed by her bedside, this one in a blue color.  Joey wasn't touching any of it.  He just made straight for the medicine cabinet in the bathroom.

Glasses cleaner, cold medicine, a box or two of feminine looking products that he really didn't feel up for examining at that moment.  Down on the bottom shelf, there was a simple bottle with small white pills in it.  Sure enough, ibuprofen was written on the side of the label.  So he shook out two without reading the dosage instructions and chased them down with water from the sink, pooled with his hands.  The rush of cold water against his skin was invigorating, and the most affirming of anything that he was living.  No longer just a gust of wind, but actual flesh and bone once more.

Would he make it this time?

Not two seconds after he'd shut the water off, the pain in his head spiked.  It hit him like a rough wave; like a ton of bricks.  Searing pain ripping all the way from his temple to the back of his skull.  He clutched at his forehead, screwing his eyes shut.

"God...dammit..." he muttered through clenched teeth.  Had it hurt this bad when he died?  He barely remembered.

Then, just as soon as it had come, the pain was gone.  His head was left with a strange ringing sensation in the corners of his brain, but other than that he felt completely fine.

"What the hell was that?"

A breeze blew through the room, which was strange enough because there weren't any windows in the bathroom and Joey rarely kept the AC going.  It ruffled his hair, tugged at his shirt collar.  Sent an involuntary shiver down his spine.

And by the next time he blinked, the strange breeze blew just right to reveal a figure standing - or rather, floating - in the doorway to the bedroom.  She was cast in an ethereal green light.  Her hair, tucked in a loose ponytail behind her, flickered gently from some unfelt wind.  And then he saw her glasses...and those stupid earmuffs.

No.  It couldn't be.

"Did" she asked, eyebrows knitted in confusion and hope.

Joey didn't realize he had worked himself to the floor in the struggle to keep his head from exploding, but he was quick about scrambling back up on his feet.  He just stared at her.

"Am I just seeing things?" he muttered, more to himself than the figure.  "Am I losing it too?"

"No, Joey."  She shook her head.  "You're not."

When she said his name, he nearly fell down all over again.  She kept surprising him.  Even after he had made his peace with a proposed future.

"Red?" he gaped.  "It's...really you?"

A flicker of a smile - a real, genuine smile - crossed her features.

"It's really me.  Well, my spirit, anyway."

"!"  Joey gripped onto the edge of the sink, so many questions running through his brain at the same time.

"I did one last thing before I died," she answered calmly, but not so calmly that it was unfamiliar.  There was the tiniest of tremors under her voice; something he only could pick out after being at her side for so long.

"Yeah, I know."  Joey held up one of his flesh hands.  "You brought me back to life.  But I don't-"

"That wasn't all," she interrupted in that way she always did with him.  "I wouldn't be here if I didn't have a reason."

"Darling, don't talk circles at me.  I-"  And that's when it dawned on him.  The pain in his head.  He had watched Lauren battle with that headache, as well as Rosa.  His stomach dropped, and then rose up to his throat.

A look of acknowledgement crossed her eyes.

" made me a medium?  A Bestower?"

"Got it in one," she nearly smirked, mimicking the script from when they had first met.

"Is that even possible?!"

" worked...didn't it?"

The two of them just stared at each other for a few moments, letting a silence settle between them.  Joey's eyes flitted all over her image - down from her face to where her legs faded off and back up again.

"And you're my spirit guide?"

"What good would you be without one?  After all, this is what we do."

For the first time in what felt like an eternity, Joey cracked a smile.

"You crazy broad..."

He thought he'd finally lost her for good.  Made peace with it.  And she kept on surprising him.  She was a lot tougher than he had given her credit for.  But maybe...just maybe, he would have the chance to redeem that.

Standing up a little straighter, he shoved his hands comfortably in his pockets.

"Well, what are we waiting for?"