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Jason had his own unfortunate experiences with how essence users dealt with extreme trauma following periods of captivity. In the time he had spent recovering, he had learned a lot from the priest of the Healer and Rufus' mother, Arabelle Remore. In the weeks he had spent receiving their care, they had elucidated how the response and recovery of essence users tended to go.

Essence users went through their own variation on shock, as compared to normal people whose souls had not been magically reinforced. Following the trauma, essence users gained a grace period where their minds were stabilised by their souls. It was a defence mechanism that gave them a chance to seize a critical moment and escape their circumstances.

The price of which was that once the grace period was passed, their souls would enter a recovery state. Their powers were negatively affected and their mental state crashed, leaving them both fragile and vulnerable. Jason had experienced this himself, and it was not long into the first leg of their return to Australia that Farrah experienced that crash for herself.

Jason knew that there was little he could do for her at the moment, other than keep her safe. He didn’t disembark as the plane stopped to refuel, remaining outside the sleeping cabin like a loyal guard dog. Only once he got her somewhere that she truly felt secure would she set out on the long path to recovery.

What that would look like, Jason was unsure. He didn’t have access to experienced professionals like Arabelle or Carlos, the priest of the Healer that had helped him. He snorted a laugh at the irony of him, of all people, being disappointed at the lack of a priest.

Jason didn’t bother waiting for the flight to arrive, portalling directly off the plane with a blank-faced Farrah. The interior of the houseboat managed to rouse a reaction as she looked around at the white and sunset colours of the cloud-stuff. He could sense the presence of his sister and her family but didn’t announce his presence as he arrived in an empty cabin.

“Cloud house?”

“Yep,” Jason said. “I won Emir’s little contest.”

“You met Emir?”

“Sure did,” Jason said. “We have a lot to catch up on. I’m sorry I won’t be able to help you as well as Arabelle would.”

“Rufus’ mother? How much did I miss?”

“I’d love to tell you all about it,” Jason said. “Let’s get you settled in a room and I’ll make us some…”

Jason’s phone had been lost in the plane explosion and after jetting across the world and back, he didn’t even know what time it was.

“…lunch,” he guessed, based on the day outside.

***

Now that Farrah was secure, Jason's next concern was her recovery. Even if he could find a local trauma counsellor he could trust, the circumstances made it very tricky. Anyone who already knew about magic would still have a lot of catch-up to do and would come from one of the local magical powers. Jason didn't trust the Network or the Cabal to not view Farrah more as an opportunity than a victim, even if they did have the qualified staff.

Jason could find an unaffiliated specialist himself, but there was no way to help Farrah properly without inducting that person into the secrets of magic and alternate universes. That would cause problems with traumatising his new trauma counsellor and he needed someone who could help her with the culture shock.

In many ways, Jason himself was the best choice to help her as he had some relevant experiences, but that did not make him the equal of the people who had helped him through those experiences. He did not want to mess Farrah up more than she already was.

In the end, he decided to compromise. He would reach out to the Network and ask their healer, Gladys for potential options. First, he would need a new phone.

***

“Uncle Jason!”

The moment Jason appeared in the houseboat’s galley, his niece apparently confused the concepts of hugging and rugby tackles as she launched herself in his direction. He stood solid as a wall as she crashed into him, ruffling her hair affectionately.

“Uncle Jason…” she complained., straightening it with her fingers. He chuckled as he looked to her mother making lunch. Ian walked in from outside, holding the book he was reading. Ian greeted him with a welcoming smile, while Erika was giving him a scolding look.

“You have a lot of explaining to do,” she told Jason. “Like what’s going on with those sunglasses.”

“Jet lag,” Jason lied. “I’ll tell you all about my trip later. You know, it’s sometimes eerie how much you look like Mum when you’re cranky.”

“You do kind of look like Nanna,” Emi said, examining her mother’s face.

Erika’s nostrils flared and her eyes went wide.

“Now you really look like Nanna,” Emi said as her father held laughter back with tightly pressed lips.

“Explanations will have to wait, a couple of days,” Jason said. “I promised the men in black I’d stopped randomly telling people stuff before they enter into a secrecy agreement.”

“Since when do you have any respect for authority?” Erika asked.

“I’m always conscientious and respectful,” he lied, moving around the kitchen counter to catch his sister in a hug. She didn't return it, so as not to get food stains on his clothes from her hands as she mixed spices.

“Once Emi goes off to play with Shade,” he whispered to her.

“Suffice to say,” Jason said, “that a friend of mine was in need of help and I helped her.”

“This is a mysterious magic friend?” Erika asked.

“Yes, although that requires its own explanation. I’ll make sure you’re up to speed before she’s ready to start meeting people. She’s in a rough way, right now, so don’t expect her to pop out and say hi. I'd appreciate if you could knock some food up for her. She doesn't, strictly speaking, need to eat, but she could use the comfort in comfort food.”

“She’s here?” Erika asked.

“It’s a she?” Ian asked as sat his book on the counter and Jason glanced at the cover.

"The Shipping News," he read from the cover. "I didn't like it."

“No?” Ian said. “I’m quite enjoying it.”

“It’s a problem of expectations,” Jason said. “From what I saw people saying on the internet, I was anticipating more action.”

“You know, you left Mum, Kaito and Amy in quite an uproar,” Erika said as Jason washed his hands to assist Erika. “Letting them in on it and then running off to Europe.”

“I know I need to talk to them,” Jason said, “but I have my own priorities, right now.”

“They’re coming around this afternoon,” Erika said. “I could have warned you if you had a phone. Why do you not have a phone, again?”

“I left it on the plane,” Jason said as he started chopping vegetables. “You could have told Shade. Actually, Shade could have told me.”

“Your instructions were to respect their privacy and only inform you if their activities put them in danger,” Shade’s voice came from Erika’s shadow.

“You know, I don’t love the constant surveillance,” Erika said.

“Non-negotiable,” Jason said, the usual joviality in his voice displaced by a hard edge that made them all turn their heads at him, Erika and Ian then sharing a glance. Jason kept chopping vegetables, seeming not to notice.

"Your knife skills are coming along," Erika said, watching Jason's hands move in a blur.

“The advantage of superhuman reflexes.”

“Uncle Jason,” Emi said, “is it fun being a superhero? I bet it’s lots of fun.”

“I’m not a superhero, Moppet.”

“You use the special powers you got in an alternate reality to protect people from danger while wearing an elaborate costume that hides your identity,” Emi said.

“She’s got you there,” Ian said. “You even have a superhero name. You know they’re still trying to figure out who the Starlight Rider is.”

“That’s not a good hero name,” Jason complained. “It sounds like a B-story hero that got cancelled in the seventies once the publisher realised it was a gay allegory.”

“Are we still going to have those people follow us around?” Emi asked.

“I’m not sure yet,” Jason said. “While I’m here, I’m all the security you need. I’ll probably be taking some trips, though, so we’ll see. I was planning to sort a lot of that out this afternoon but someone set up an impromptu family reunion. I have things to do today.”

“Yes,” Erika said. “You do.”

***

Kaito and Amy pulled into the marina behind a woman with long, dark hair in a classic convertible.

“Is that Asya Karadeniz?” Amy asked.

“Yep,” Kaito said. They pulled up just along from Asya as she was getting out of her car. She had a briefcase and an expensive, flattering pantsuit.

“Hello Asya,” Kaito said, getting out of the car. “You’re looking good.”

“Oh, hello Kai, Ames,” she greeted them, her eyes walking up and down Amy’s outfit as a small smile crept onto her mouth. “It’s been since the memorial, right?”

“Yeah,” Kaito said.

“Why are you here?” Amy asked.

“Work stuff,” she said. “I didn’t realise you’d be here when Jason asked me to come. Besides, I never properly thanked him for saving my life the other day.”

“Wait, what?” Kaito asked.

“Sorry, that’s all classified, but maybe he’ll tell you if you ask. Or maybe he won’t; I don’t know if he still tells you everything like he used to. I only heard what happened between you third-hand, although your marriage itself speaks volumes. Funny how things work out, isn’t it? You even asked me out a few times, didn’t you Kai? I’m going to go ahead, so I’ll see you aboard.”

They watched her set off down the dock.

“You asked her out?” Amy asked.

“What do you think she meant by Jason saving her life?” Kaito asked.

“Multiple times?”

“It was back in school,” Kaito said. “It kind of threw me. I’d never been knocked back by a girl from a lower year before.”

“How many lower year girls did you ask out, creeper?”

“She’s seven months younger than me,” Kaito said. “She’s older than you.”

“Oh, so you remember her birthday?”

“When did I ever not remember your birthday?” he asked.

“Fair enough,” Amy said. “Don’t think I didn’t see you watching her sashay down the dock.”

“How was that a sashay?” Kaito asked. “It was a saunter at most. Her shoes were too sensible for a proper sashay.”

“She never wore heels,” Amy said wistfully. “She was always an annoyingly elegant giraffe.”

“You two didn’t get along in school, did you?” Kaito asked.

“Not especially, no.”

***

Jason and Erika watched Ian and Emi roar off on a pair of black jet skis.

“I wanted to have a talk,” Jason said, “but we only have a few moments. Kaito and Amy are here, along with the person I’d actually planned to meet this afternoon.”

Erika went to the side of the houseboat to look around at the car park where Kaito and Amy were talking to an attractive Turkish woman in a business suit.

"Did Shade tell you they were here?"

“I sensed them. I have magic powers, remember?”

She moved back and brushed his arm, as if to reassure herself he was really there.

“You feel different somehow,” she said.

“I am. Come around for a drink tonight and I’ll catch you up on everything. I need a favour.”

“Sure, but you have to do one for me.”

“What’s that?” he asked.

“Wally has been bugging me about getting you on the new show. We’re filming new episodes all week, down next to the surf club.”

“Fine,” he chuckled. “If you can herd the family away tomorrow so I can get some things sorted out, I’ll be there Monday.”

***

Kaito and Amy stepped onto the houseboat just as an unfamiliar woman looking sleepy and with dishevelled hair stepped out of a cabin.

“Who are you?” she asked warily.

“I’m Amy, this is Kaito,” Amy said. “Who are you?”

She peered at them blearily.

"Wait, you're the brother," she said, pointing at Kaito before turning her finger on Amy. “Which would make you the one who…”

“Jason told you about us, then?” Kaito said.

“Yeah,” Farrah said. “Just to be clear, I’m on his side, so as far as I’m concerned, you can both jump overboard and drown each other.”

She wandered back into the cabin, the misty door sealing it off.

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Shirtaloon (Travis Deverell)

  • Australia

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