Julia stayed out of sight, and Sarah remained in the living room with Marie, but David insisted on following Bailey back into the lab with Rebecca’s body. Bailey knew they couldn’t refuse; after all, there hadn’t been a chance to independently confirm that the charm had actually been lifted. Of course Rebecca’s housemates would want to keep an eye on them.
The first step was to heal the wound in Rebecca’s chest. In this respect, it was easier with Rebecca dead; there would be no need to fight living tissue and force it to mend. They simply had to restore its integrity so that it could contain life again. A small feeling of panic began to well up in Bailey, but this was one bit of magic that they hadn’t rejected, thus it was easy to push it back down.
David stood around looking nervous and helpless, so Bailey tried to distract him.
“How long have you known her?”
“Well, I came to this house almost a year ago. That’s when I met her. And everyone else.”
“You didn’t know anyone before coming?”
“My guide knew Thomas. The two of them arranged for me to come.”
“My master? Sort of. It’s a person seekers study under.”
“Ah. What tradition . . . Crap.”
“I slipped. Nothing irreversible. Don’t worry; I won’t let anything bad happen to her.”
David nodded, but his concern was still palpable.
“So are you two a couple?” Bailey hadn’t intended to ask the question, but his emotional investment made their curiosity overwhelming.
“You seem to care a lot about her. So I thought . . .”
“She saved my life a while back. It was a bottle very similar to this one. That’s how I recognized it.”
“That makes sense.” Bailey wasn’t convinced that there wasn’t more to his concern, but they didn’t want to push it.
“What about you? We’re you and she partners?”
Bailey hadn’t expected the question, but they couldn’t very well object now.
“Once. It feels like a long time ago. Pretty sure those feelings are in the past. Especially after all this.”
They both fell silent. Bailey was relieved as the work was getting trickier and required more focus. They considered telling David how Marie felt about Rebecca, but it wasn’t their place. David would have to navigate that minefield on his own. Bailey wanted nothing to do with it all.
“Okay. The preparations are done. Give me the bottle.”
David handed Bailey the bottle containing Rebecca’s soul. Rebecca had discussed all of this with Bailey once. Even though they hated this realm of magic, Bailey had listened attentively at the time because it was something she was excited about. That was enough to interest Bailey. The soul needed to be coaxed back into the body. Since it was the soul’s original body, it should be relatively easy.
None of that really mattered, though. Nausea and panic hit Bailey with wave after wave. The only thing they could hear was the voice of their former master screaming. Every step of the process was excruciating and threatened to incapacitate Bailey. They repeatedly whispered Rebecca’s name to maintain focus and fight through every step.
After the soul was back in the body, it needed to be secured so that it wouldn’t simply drift away. The sense of terror intensified and each part of the process took five times as long as it should have. Bailey was terrified of manipulating the magical forces, and even more terrified that they would fail. There was no one else who could help Rebecca. Just when Bailey thought they might collapse from stress, it was over. They slumped into a chair next to the body.
“Now we wait for her to wake up.”
“Minutes? Hours? It’s hard to know. Why don’t you tell Sarah and Marie it worked.”
David nodded and left the room.
As soon as he was gone, Rebecca’s eyes fluttered open.
“Hey, sleepy head. That was quite a stunt.”
“He refused to intervene, so I saved your ass.”
“Oh, no. Bailey. I’m so sorry to have put you through that.”
Bailey lightly touched Rebecca’s arm. “Don’t apologize. It was the least I could do after putting you into that mess. More importantly, did it work? Are you free?”
“Yes. But you . . .”
The door opened, and David, Sarah, and Marie all came in the room. They crowded around Rebecca, who was struggling to sit up. In the general commotion, Bailey slipped out.
Back in the living room, they used the portal to the kitchen. Once there, they called out to Julia, who appeared soon after.
“It worked. Well done. You didn’t want to stay to celebrate?”
Bailey shook their head. “She and Marie have things to talk about. Figure it’ll be hard enough getting rid of Sarah and David.”
Julia’s look suggested that she thought there was more to it but wasn’t going to ask. “So now what?”
“I was hoping you’d let me leave.”
That seemed to surprise Julia. “You want to leave?”
“I think it’d be for the best.”
“Bailey, if I can ask, why didn’t you tell us you were a mage?”
“The charm prevented me.”
“And after the crystal suppressed it?”
“It . . . It’s complicated.”
“Okay. But there is room for you here. I’m sure Sarah, David, and Rebecca would agree.”
“I appreciate the offer, but I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
Julia was quiet for a moment. “I’ve been alone. And that can be okay. But I’m learning there is something to be said for belonging somewhere.”
Bailey offered a weak smile. “Maybe some day, but not now.”
“Well, I’m not going to stop you from leaving. You have to figure out your own path.”
In spite of themself, Bailey threw their arms around Julia in a meaningful hug. The other mage was clearly not used to such displays, but awkwardly returned the embrace.
“Please remember you have friends here if you need us. I mean it.”
“I will. Thank you, Julia. For everything.”
Neither of them said anything else on the way to the front door. Bailey left without looking at Julia so that the other wouldn’t see the tears rolling down their cheeks.