Aidan Bradley
After the Dream

Aidan leaned against her door, thinking hard. Not that she had needed the reminder, but Kassandra’s crazy dream had reminded Aidan of her own. She needed to talk to someone. Strangely enough, her cabal wasn’t an option — she didn’t know them well enough, hadn’t known them long enough, and, well ... I’ll admit it to myself. She tossed her head a bit without realizing it. I don’t want to see their smug faces when I tell them what I’ve been thinking. It’ll be bad enough if I decide ... She was getting ahead of herself.
Jishne was a possibility. She had known him for three years, she trusted and respected him. They’d grown especially close lately, though, in ways that might complicate things unnecessarily. Anyway, she knew she needed to talk to her family. Certain members, anyway. Bridie. Gwennie. Julia, of course. Always Julia. And hopefully, Blaize would guide her as well.
She opened her door again, and walked down the hall toward Kassandra’s room. Not her first choice of someone to tell — Aidan was still a little pissed off at her for the other day — but it had to be done, and she knew Kassandra was the most likely to be awake.
She knocked and the door opened. Kassandra stood there, her long dark hair looking less disheveled than it had fifteen minutes ago when she’d banged everyone’s doors down. “Hey, what’s up?”
“Hey, Kassandra, I’ve got a bit of a favor to ask. I figured you’d be the best bet of someone to tell. I’m sure everyone else went straight back to bed.” Aidan grinned, but Kassandra stood there looking at her. “Look, I’m gonna go visit some of my family today. I’m leaving as soon as it might be reasonable to expect Bridie to be up. I may stay there tonight, or even for a couple days. I’m not sure yet. I just wanted to let someone know so that no one would worry about me.” Aidan paused for breath, and Kassandra started nodding, and started to open her mouth to reply, but Aidan held up her hand. “One more thing. If there’s an emergency, if you guys are in trouble, or if you have some reason to believe I’m in trouble, or if you somehow find out Darcy’s in trouble, anything - mindlink me right away. But I’d appreciate it if those were the only circumstances in which you did. Okay? No offense, I’ve just got some shit to sort out right now. I had a dream too. It was ... very real.”
Kassandra nodded again. “Yeah. Alright, I’ll tell everyone. Call one of us if you need anything, Sulla.”
“Thanks. See you in a day or so.”

The light from the candles warmed the room more than the heated air from the vent; the light, and the laughter.
Bridie and Bran, Sr. usually used the smaller table in the kitchen for meals, Aidan was sure, when they dined alone, but the family revolved around Bridie — Bridie was the heart of the family, the way her hearth was the heart of her home.
The five of them were sitting around the large table in the dining room. This table was used whenever Bridie had more than two guests. Aidan was there, had been there since the morning, and Julia and Bran, Jr. had come over a few hours ago, to see their cousin, and to spend time with Bridie. By this time, the meal was finished, and they were sitting around the table, talking and laughing and enjoying each other’s company.
Aidan’s mind was wandering. A lot had happened the other day, a lot she needed to think about. And what was really disconcerting was that really, at the same time —
“Sulla? Earth to Sulla?”
Aidan looked up from her plate at Julia. “Sorry, Jules, I was ... thinking. What’s up?”
Bran, Jr. laughed softly. “There’s this club, they do a drum circle. It’s a good time. We were wondering if you wanted to come with me and Julia.”
Aidan smiled despite her last memories of that club. That was when Darcy had first started — not now. “I’ve been there before. But you’ll have to count me out tonight. Try again tomorrow. I have some — ” she sent the briefest glance Bridie’s way, and if she hadn’t been watching so hard for it, she would have missed Bridie’s return nod — “things to take care of tonight. But don’t let that stop you from — ” Aidan’s forehead wrinkled as she turned to face Julia. “Julia’s going? Have I been in a time warp?”
Julia grinned and shook her head. “Branwen lent me her ID. She’s going to a play tonight with some guy.”
“We’re also leaving pretty soon, so we get there while it’s still fairly dead. Hopefully we can get in while the bouncer’s doing something else, so we won’t have to show our IDs. That’ll be best, obviously.”
Aidan nodded. “Yeah. I am gonna have to bail tonight. But you guys have fun, and I’m serious about tomorrow night.”

Julia and Bran had left, and Bran, Sr., was doing dishes. Aidan and Bridie were sitting in the family room, in comfy chairs pulled up close to the hearth, with a merry fire growing. Aidan was almost finished telling Bridie about the dream.
“I go to hug him, Bridie, and my heart’s breaking just from seeing him alive and well, and smiling at me again, Bridie, and he’s warm to the touch. I start to check him with Life, to see if anything’s wrong, and the heat grows, and I smell flames, and ... then I wake up. The last bit, the heat and the smell of flames, that’s my avatar’s calling card.” Aidan shook her head. “That part makes no sense. It’s what convinces me that on some level, what I went through was real. It wasn’t the avatar dream. Too much happened, and I never saw her. Those are two constants about the dream. Her calling card? That only happens when I’m awake.”
“And it felt real?”
“Bridie, I’m still thinking about things that happened in the dream and then starting, and realizing it didn’t happen. And it’s always a shock. It’d be like finding out that Darcy and I are fine, that he hasn‘t moved away and stopped talking to me.”
“It might have been a Seeking. Did you think about that?”
“What’s a Seeking?”
Bridie raised her eyebrows in disbelief, then sighed and shook her head. “I love my sister dearly, but I would dearly like to know what she was thinking of, raising you in a family of Mages and not allowing you to learn anything about it. Mages have Seekings a few times in their lifetimes. The most common way of it is a really vivid dream. They seem to be sent to you to help you learn something, to help you progress with your Magick. Would you say there was a lesson to the dream?”
Aidan shrugged, feeling uncomfortable. “Possibly, Bridie. I mean, it was obviously about Darcy, but ... I don’t know. I’ve got a bit of a conundrum, I guess. I care about him, Bridie, and I know I can’t be apart from him anymore. It kills me to think of anything happening to him, especially if I don’t know about it.” Aidan paused, and took a deep breath, then let it out. “But I can’t immediately go from how I’m living now, all freedom and doing whatever I want and being with whoever I want whenever I want — when they’re willing, of course — to being with Darcy exclusively. I don’t know if I can ever make that switch.”
Bridie nodded. “I understand, sweetheart. My grandmother was the same way, you know.”
“Maeve? I know. They stayed together because of Nuala, though, right?”
“Oh, they lived together, in that big old mansion of his, certainly, but they never married, and they never bothered about it. Like Gwennie and that boy of hers.”
“White Raven. Yeah, I’d like to have a chat with her, too, possibly tomorrow.”
“Well, Sulla, if there’s a possibility that you can be with him and not give up your freedom, what are you worrying about?”
Aidan laughed. “I know. I’m worrying needlessly. And that’s not usually my thing. I know. I don’t know why, Bridie, it’s just that I’ve been really edgy since that dream. Is that part of the Seeking?” She shook her head. “I just don’t know, Bridie. There seems so much to worry about. I don’t even know for certain why he left the Chantry in the first place.” She laughed a little at Bridie’s raised eyebrow. “Well, Kassandra’s probably right — ”
“Her and everyone else who knows Darcy.”
Aidan forced herself to give an ironic grin, but otherwise she didn’t acknowledge her aunt’s quip. “But I’m having trouble coming up with a trigger event. I mean, wanting to get away from the Chantry of Death makes sense — he left only a day or two after the last death. But — what, not wanting to be around the person you love because she isn‘t paying attention?” Aidan shook her head again. “And with no reason. The last time I went to bed with someone other than Darcy, he wasn‘t even around, and the time before that was ages ago.”
“When was the last time?”
“Wednesday. Four days ago.”
“And he left Thursday? When did he start acting strange?”
“Well, he tried to leave Thursday, but was incapacitated. He ended up leaving Friday. But he started acting not himself on Tuesday.”
“Hmm.” Bridie gazed at her niece for a moment. Aidan sighed.
“Now you see? I mean, maybe he left because of Jishne, but he didn’t start acting weird because of it.”
Silence fell for a few moments, as Bridie and Aidan sat and watched the flames, thinking.
“I’m hoping for the avatar dream tonight. I feel a need for guidance.” Aidan paused, then turned to Bridie. ‘I mean, I guess the trigger event doesn’t really matter — only I keep getting the feeling it does. But — maybe Darcy had a dream? Or was contacted by his Avatar? Or even had a Seeking? Maybe that had something to do with it?”
Bridie nodded slowly. “Perhaps. Or perhaps it was a non-event, just a building up of past events and feelings. I understand what you mean about it mattering, Sulla. If he only left because he wanted to get away from the — what did you call it? The Chantry of Death? — then what you say probably won’t matter. But really, Aidan. If that was it, why won’t he talk to you? Why didn’t he try to get you to leave with him? Even if he doesn’t love you, he does care about you, and he wouldn’t leave you to be killed without at least trying to get you out.”
Aidan smiled. “This is why I talk to you. Thank you.”
“I do what I can. And, if I may make a suggestion?”
“But of course.”
“The night is young. You should go to the club with Julia and Bran. Julia may not have Branwen’s ID tomorrow night, and it might help you take your mind off Darcy for a while.”
“Unless Darcy’s there.” Aidan grinned, but felt little humor.
“Well, so what? You need to stop worrying. It’s not healthy. Go, Sulla.”
Aidan nodded. “Alright. I will do as you say. You always know best.”

Aidan walked into the club. She scanned the room from the doorway. The drummers were in the center of the back wall, with tons of people dancing around them. Julia was there, her short dark hair flying as she danced wildly. The drumbeat was noisy and alive, and immediately helped lighten Aidan’s heart. She knew Bridie had been right. Bridie always was.
Aidan had less trouble forcing herself to look at the group surrounded by the large cloud of smoke now that the drumbeat had soothed her heart. Bran was there, but Darcy was not. She felt vaguely disappointed, but she knew it wasn’t time for her to see him. She started toward the dancers.
“Sulla! You came!” Julia’s grin told Aidan more than any words could have how happy Julia was to see her.
“Bridie’s orders, I’m afraid. And Bridie knows best.”
“I’m so glad you’re here!”
“I’m glad I came. I hope to have some fun tonight.”
Julia looked at her cousin, her expression softening a bit. “I want you to have fun, too, Sulla. I hope ... ”
Aidan smiled. “Hey, you want to come over to Bridie’s tonight? We can stay up late and drink tequila and eat popcorn and chocolate and talk. Mostly talk.”
“Oh, and ice cream?”
“Popcorn caramel swirl chocolate ice cream, drizzled over with tequila and rum, if you want.”
Julia laughed, and Aidan couldn’t help laughing with her, her heart feeling lighter than it had in weeks. She felt pure utter happiness, for some reason.

Aidan woke up slowly, feeling peace and contentment. For some reason, she was sure it had something to do with Darcy. She turned over in bed, expecting to find him beside her, but was slightly startled to find that she wasn‘t in her bed, or his.
Oh! She was at Bridie’s. Because Darcy left. And then she’d had that dream, the Seeking. Aidan became a little more aware of her surrounding; she was in a sleeping bag. There was another sleeping bag next to her, disheveled and empty. Julia. Julia must be up already.
What time is it? She glanced at the clock by the bed she didn’t sleep in last night. Nearly eleven! I never sleep this late! She sat up slowly, contemplating that feeling of peace she’d had upon waking. She didn’t have the avatar dream last night, so it can’t be that. Maybe it’s just having talked to Bridie and Julia. And starting to figure out what I want. I was so ... alive ... last night, at the club. So happy.
Aidan climbed all the way out of the sleeping bag, surveying the mess she and Julia had made last night. There were popcorn crumbs everywhere — they’d had a popcorn fight at one point — there was a huge pile of wrappers from the Hershey’s dark chocolate bars they’d downed, and their shot glasses were lying on the floor next to the empty bottle of Jose Cuervo. She’d clean it up after she ate and went to visit Gwennie.
Aidan made her way downstairs, and was surprised to find Julia in the kitchen with Bridie, eating scrambled eggs, toast, and sausage, and laughing. They looked up at her as she came in.
“Good morning, sunshine!” Julia smiled over her juice. “How’s your head?”
“Sit down, Sulla, have some breakfast.”
Aidan paused on her way to the plates and the food being kept warm on the stove to kiss her aunt on the head and her cousin on the cheek. “Good morning. Thanks Bridie.” She glanced at Julia as she spooned eggs onto her plate. “My head feels surprisingly good, after drinking half a bottle of tequila.”
“Good to hear. I had a terrible headache, I didn’t want to get out of bed, but I heard Bridie making food, and she helped me out with the head.”
“Although maybe I shouldn’t have. How can you learn life lessons if I always help you out of the painful parts?” Bridie’s eyes twinkled as she looked over at her niece.
“Bah, humbug. I already know that lesson. I just don’t care very much when there’s a Life Mage around.”
Bridie laughed. “Taking advantage of us, are you?”
“Why else are you around?”
Aidan sat down at the table with her breakfast. “Don’t you have class, Julia?”
Julia grinned and shook her head. “My Monday classes are all afternoon classes. I’ll leave soon-ish. My first class is around noon-thirty.”
Aidan nodded.
Bridie turned to Aidan. “So, Sulla, what are your plans for today? Are you going back to the Chantry?”
“I’m gonna finish eating these wonderful sausages, then shower and get dressed. Then I think I’ll visit Gwennie. I still want to talk to her. Then I’ll come back here and clean up the mess in my room — don’t you dare touch it, Bridie! Then, I’m not sure. I guess it kinda depends on how shit with Gwennie goes. But I think it’s likely I’ll want to stay another night, if that’s okay.”
“Of course it is.”
Julia glanced at Aidan, her eyebrows furrowed. “Why?”
Aidan smiled a little and shook her head. “I’m not sure I’m going to be up to seeing my cabal for a little bit. I can’t avoid them forever, but I don’t think I’ll go immediately back to the Chantry when I do decide to go back.”
“Why not? I thought cabals were groups of really close friends.”
“If I had my way, Julia, you, Epona, Flidais and Raven would all be Mages and we could be in a cabal together with Yellow Wolf. I’ve just met my cabal two weeks ago. And — ” she glanced at Bridie, and then sighed. “I’m a little ashamed to admit it, but I’m afraid I’m not looking forward to seeing Kassandra’s face when I tell her I decided I —” she paused, took a breath, and forced herself to continue “that I love Darcy.” She shook her head. “I don’t know if I can do this, Bridie.”
Bridie nodded. “You will do what you need to. Did you not have the avatar dream last night?”
“No. Tonight — whether I’m here or at the Chantry — I’m going to try something. I’ve done it a few times before, and it doesn’t work consistently, but ... it’s better than nothing.”
“What are you talking about?”
Aidan glanced at Julia. “Sorry. I have this incense. I found it the first time ... the night Viv died, actually. When Pagan Pipes was still operating and Yellow Wolf worked there. When I first met her, actually. Anyway, it reminds me of my Avatar. When I need guidance, I’ll light a stick before going to bed. It’s kind of a ... pager for her, I guess.” She shook her head. “Only, like I said, she doesn’t always come. I don’t like to do it too often, in case she starts thinking I’m the Mage who cried wolf. But maybe she doesn’t know exactly what I’m doing when I do that. I don’t know how connected we are.” She looked over at Bridie, wondering if Bridie might know something.
Bridie shook her head. “It’s different for everyone. I don’t know how connected you are, either.”

Aidan stepped up to Gwennie’s door, knocked, then took a step back to wait. After a second, the door opened to reveal Sarah, Gwennie’s blond, waifish cabal-mate. She had dark circles under her eyes.
“Hey, Aidan ... you looking for Gwen?”
“Yeah, is she here.”
“Yeah ... come on in.”
She wandered off deeper into the apartment. Aidan could hear Sarah’s soft voice, but not the words as Aidan stepped into the apartment and shut the door behind her. Not that they’ll care much if it’s open. The front room was crowded with sofas, bean bags, recliners ... as many places to sit or lay down as could be crammed into the small space. There were a few small tables scattered about wherever there was room, and Aidan wasn’t surprised to see a spoon and a syringe lying on the table next to the recliner.
Sarah drifted back into the room, and sank into the recliner. “She’s coming.”
“Sulla, you are damn lucky that you’re family, that I like Darcy, and that I talked to Callia last night.”
Aidan did not wince when Gwennie called her Sulla. It was a privilege she granted her family, because they were her family, but if Gwennie wasn't family ...
She also kept a straight face when she saw Gwennie. Her hair looked very tousled, and her button-up shirt was not buttoned. She wasn’t wearing a bra. Aidan had no doubts as to what her cousin had been doing.
A man Aidan had never seen before trailed out into the front room from the direction Gwennie had come. He tried putting his arms around her, probably to drag her back, but she shook him off. “Hey, Chris. Go play with Sarah for a bit. I’ll be back.”
Gwennie turned her attention back to Aidan, tying her shirt together. “Let’s go out onto my balcony.”
“You talked to Callia?” Aidan asked as she followed Gwennie down the hall. “You know why I’m here?”
“I figured it out, anyway, Aidan. You’ve finally figured out there’s something more besides Mentor-student in Darcy’s heart, and my guess is you’ve decided there’s more than that in yours, too. But you’ve always been like me in at least one way. You can’t settle.” Gwennie stepped out onto the balcony. “Hmm ... it’s a bit chilly. So, you’ve come to me for advice about your relationship. You’re thinking about me and White Raven? What do you want to know?”

Aidan shoved the vacuum back into the closet mechanically. Her chat with Gwennie hadn’t been terribly long, but she hadn’t come straight to Bridie's afterward. She’d wandered San Francisco, and found herself looking at a painting of Darcy’s in a window. The gallery had had a bunch of his stuff, but she hadn’t gone in.
When she got back, she ate a bit of the soup Bridie had made for dinner, and then gone to clean up her and Julia’s mess. Now, it was ten o’clock, and she was tired. Bone-tired. She rummaged through her bag, grabbed the plastic sleeve of sticks, the ash-catcher, and her lighter.
“Blaize, please help me. Please come to me tonight and give me guidance.” She lit the incense and waved the smoke around her body, and around the bed she’d sleep in tonight. “Blaize, I ask for your help and guidance. Please come.”
She put the stick in the ash-catcher and lay down on the bed. Within ten minutes, she was asleep.

Call me a bloody bitch - I am all that and more. But I can look in the mirror and say that I have lived. Can you, with your illusions of comfort, say the same?