Physician, Heal Thyself


hokuto2_icon.gif kayla_icon.gif

Scene Title Physician, Heal Thyself
Synopsis Kayla's nightmares call out to a watching dreamwalker, who makes an attempt to better the life of a woman who has isolated her heart.
Date July 2, 2009

In Dreams

A dull gray sky, the color of tarnished silver, hangs above a city not like its waking self. There are no clouds, and yet no sunlight; details are for the real world, while here the environment is but a backdrop for what matters. No sounds of traffic rumbling in the background, despite the fact that the setting is Midtown Manhattan in its remembered glory — whole, intact, and presumably full of life.

There is, however, no life to be seen — no cars on the road, not even a taxi; no pedestrians on the sidewalk. No movement behind the windows, and indeed not even lights inside. There are only two things in the fore of this dreamscape — Kayla herself, dressed in jeans and a dark blue short-sleeved shirt, and the improbable web of brambles that sprawls alongside the base of each and every building, vining up the walls like some peculiar type of ivy. The thorned branches are densest near the ground, vines as thick as the woman's arm in some places, thinning as they climb higher.

She's running.

It isn't practical to bolt barefoot down a city street in the real world, but dreamscapes aren't subject to the coarse and cruel details of reality; only their own, far crueler, internal logic. The pavement doesn't scrape her feet and there's no shards of inconveniently sharp stone, metal, or glass on these roads, but each step leaves spots of blood behind nonetheless.

The ill-advised glance over her shoulder causes Kayla to wobble, but she neither falls nor quite breaks stride; recovers to the sound of her own labored breathing, somehow still a feature here, gray gaze sweeping the block ahead. The street ends, incongruously, in a structure never found in New York City past or present — short, square, inelegant, its stone-block walls are only barely visible between the briars that wrap about it in a protective, preventative net.

Behind Kayla, the horizon gleams red.

Red enough to make the city look like it's bleeding, red enough to make the world seem like it's edges are torn and frayed. Red enough to know what it means, and what it was. Standing between Kayla's field of view and that blood-red horizon is a rippling silhouette, distorted in the ways pavement is on a hot summer day; jet black on all parts and blurred on the edges.

The silhouette moves; flickering, erratic motions in the way things in dreams are wont to do. A jittering footstep, the rustle of matte black cloth, the flow of silken strands of hair like individual strokes of black ink from a fine pen, it's exactly what she is. Kayla isn't looking back, isn't looking behind her to see the silhouette's approach, but it doesn't halt the steady click of wooden sandals on broken concrete. The silhouette's motions become less sketchy, less erratic and flickering the closer it gets. Eventually, it takes on a liquid fluidity, moving in smooth and slow unhalting cadence. Long and wide sleeves of dark cloth flow and shift with the same motions as hair, as if this woman is submerged deep underwater.

It is a woman, close up enough to make out the details. Less now a black smudge on the horizon, more a pursuing shadow, as if Kayla were trying to outrun either it or the hideous glow behind her. Porcelain white skin contrasts with the black of her elegantly folded robe, a tattered black blindfold flecked with tiny white points like starlight shrouds her eyes. But she isn't the focus, she's an observer, not what is being observed.

Somehow, those shrouded eyes focus more intently on Kayla Reid than anything else. Because outside of this briar-wrapped terminus of the street, Kayla is the focus, she is what lay behind the door, and now the observer must find out why she is observing. It's the way these things work.

Three ongoing sources of sound in the dreamscape become only two when Kayla's headlong dash comes to a halt, palms smacking against the briar-covered stone walls with absolutely no regard for the way the thorns tear at her skin. She winces; feels the pain, pretends it isn't there. It's a skill that apparently carries over from the waking world. The healer can hear the footsteps behind her, the sound of someone else approaching. It feels somehow strange, out of place, even by dream logic; there shouldn't be anyone else here.

Kayla has other concerns; she doesn't turn back. She knows, by that same peculiar, nonlinear logic, what's coming next.

Of course, she's also had this dream before.

Black-tipped thorns bite into exposed flesh as Kayla grabs hold of the brambles she can readily reach, the vining cords which block the concrete building's door. The thin ones snap in her fingers as easily as pencils, despite looking alive and green; it is a dream. Daubed lightly with red, their broken ends are discarded, flung to the pavement. Blood streaks the rough concrete walls as she scrabbles for the next lengths of briar, and the next, and the next. The larger ones, Kayla skips over for now; clear the easy stuff first.

The skyline beyond Hokuto begins to flicker, in a way atomic fire cannot; it is the wavering dance of flames, red and gold and orange, reflected in the sky and the windows of each and every building. Wildfire pours over the more distant perspectives of Midtown as if it were a tide of water, sheering down the sides of skyscrapers, flowing into the streets and creeping inexorably towards the two women.

There's some uncertainty in Hokuto's presence as she turns not to watch the frenzied pulling of thorned vines away, but instead to watch that inexorable progress of fiery dawn burn its way between the skyscrapers. Her shadow elongates across the building, bleeding deep and black against the old brickwork and thorned briars. Arms still folded within her long, wide sleeves, she stares sightlessly through her blindfold as the warmth of that orange glow permeates the cityscape.

But, it is enough fear, enough terror. Enough bloody hands scraping at a vine-covered door. Hokuto's brows lower behind her blindfold, head turns slowly as that rolling wall of flames gets closer and closer, as the raging conflagration seeks to consume and burn everything to a cinder and crash down on them both, everything floods white and cold instead of white and hot. For a moment, it seems like everything burned away in that white haze, until shades of blue begin to filter through, followed by contrasting light and dark.


Flurries blow in all around the bricked up building, hanging heavy on the now brown stalks of the briars, thick and heavy snowflakes descending from a cloudy sky overhead. Where once there was a wall of flame, there now is nothing but falling white flakes adding to a two foot thick carpet of powdery accumulation on the streets. Standing just as she was, Hokuto is now like a line of black ink against the white parchment of the snow, unmelted snowflakes clinging to her dark hair and clothing.

She turns fully, leaving a disturbed wake of fallen snow in the path of her motions. Facing Kayla where she stands at the door, her head tilts to one side, watching her, watching the way she reacts to the change in surroundings; cold, but not bitterly so, white, but not blindingly such. It is the serenity of winter in all its embrace, from icicles hanging from the eaves of buildings, to the blue-white hue of the snowy skies above; there's been enough pain, and enough fire.


The return of gray, directionless light to the dreamscape finds Kayla standing with an arm shielding her eyes. Upon lowering it, she looks at the building before her, gray stone and dying foliage; turns back to the white skyline, buildings, streets. Inevitably, the splotch of darkness marring that pristine purity catches and keeps her attention.

The younger woman holds her hands up before her, fingers loosely curled, as though she isn't entirely sure what to do with them. Scowls at the dark-clad figure who presumably turned everything here upside-down, in the manner of someone bewildered and perplexed by how her environment has changed. Snow crunches beneath Kayla's bare feet as she takes a single step forward, away from the building that had been so important mere moments before. She pretends it doesn't make them cold. Gray eyes flick down, focus on her hands; the scowl deepens. Kayla splays her fingers, flattens her palms; not displaying them for Hokuto, but the angle she holds them at while studying them herself allows the other dreamer to see them — pale skin marked with the red-black of drying blood, the incongruous blue of fresh seepage from cuts, scrapes, and punctures.

"What did you do?"

A pale hand moves up to trace fingers through dark hair, and the lady in dreams quietly makes her way through the freshly fallen snow, sandals crunching down in the powder with each approaching step. "I took the pain away," spoken as if not understanding such a harsh reaction. "I have fond memories of winter; family, loved ones, gatherings… most people react positively to the season in small doses." She turns her focus up, head tilting back as shrouded eyes watch large snowflakes slowly fall down from gray skies. "This city has so much pain," brows crease subtly behind the black blindfold, "no one wants to suffer."

There's a moment of consideration as Hokuto turns her focus down towards Kayla again, halting in her approach a few steps out of arm's reach. "You must understand what that's like; taking away others' pain?" It's a rhetorical question, one spoken with a hint of a smile across ash gray lips. "Very few people have the capacity to be able to shoulder the burden of others, I think it's why you called out to me in the way you did…" Wistful, Hokuto turns slowly, regarding Kayla with her profile, looking out over the snowy streets through the black veil of a blindfold. "Who takes away your pain?" She asks the snow, or perhaps Kayla, it's hard to tell.

The cold, at least, keeps her feet from bleeding; they don't go numb, like one would expect in the waking world, but the chill is just an inconvenience. Kayla watches as Hokuto approaches, her posture oblique, gaze wary. Her fingers curl in towards her palms, reflexively shielding the broken skin there.

"No," the younger woman replies, a short, blunt-spoken expression of certainty. "No, I don't." Either refuting the knowledge she doesn't believe Hokuto should have — I don't do anything — or, more likely in light of the tone, disagreeing with her interpretation of it. She shifts her weight, inching perhaps half a step backwards in the process; probably not deliberately. Everyone suffers — but the remark isn't voiced. Instead, her lips press together into a thin, nearly bloodless line. That stiff, prideful silence is as easily read as any spoken answer to Hokuto's final query.

No one does.

Something else, instead. Anything else. "Who are you?" Kayla asks, off-balance, trying to focus the microscope on anything not herself. "Why are you here?"

"Answering who I am doesn't help you figure out who you are…" The robed woman states with sybillic quality to her words, one hand held out to catch a snowflake on the tip of her finger, watching it begin to melt away slowly against the warmth of her skin. "Identity is an important thing. People hide behind masks, pretend to be who they are and what they aren't, in order to make life easier on themselves." Her head cants just a touch to one side, letting the chilld breeze blow at loose strands of dark hair, "or so the fallacy goes."

Rubbing her index finger and thumb together, Hokuto grinds the remainder of the snowflake away, taking one crunching step through the snow towards Kayla. "Pretending, and hiding, using veils and walls to keep yourself in and others out only makes things worse in the long run. Hiding from the pain," she turns towards the distant horizon, where a red glow is beginning to build again, where the original dream is trying to overtake the safe haven, "only delays the inevitable to come."

Her scrutiny turns back to Kayla, gray lips pressed together in a thin line before she quietly reminds, "You take away others pain, onto yourself, but have no one to take away your own." The red glow starts to become more prominent, the air becoming more wild, stirring up the snowflakes. "You can change that."

"I don't need to figure out who I am," Kayla retorts forcefully, wrapping her pride about herself as though it were a cloak that could protect her from snow. Or fire. Or mysterious shadows. "You think anything is easy, you need to fucking think again."

Kayla turns around, away from Hokuto, away from the horizon that is not reddening with sunset. And she walks, through the cold snow that doesn't bite any less after one, five, or a dozen steps; past the squat, square concrete building; away from Hokuto, the woman's words bouncing around inside the healer's head — though perhaps not with quite the ramifications the dreamwalker would prefer.

"Don't fucking presume you have any right to give me advice," Kayla calls.

A long, dark shadow cast by Hokuto follows after Kayla, while the dreamwalker remains standing where she is. The red glow brightens, making that shadow chase the empathetic healer in a way physical movement cannot. "Nothing worth doing is ever easy," the shadow says with all of the lyrical quality of Hokuto's voice, each syllable rising up from the snow as if it had a mouth with which to voice these concerns. "You have a gift, one that allows you to turn others' pain away, and you saddle yourself with all of their negativity, all of their disease… as if it is a //cross/ you have to let weigh you down."

The shadow continues to stretch out, further than Kayla has moved, faster than she walks, stretching ahead of her to connect to the feet of Hokuto's black and white clad form, now standing in front of Kayla, arms folded within the broad and loose fabric of her sleeves by the door to that brick building.

"I'm not offering advice," she admits with a slow slant of her head, "I'm showing you what you refuse or are unable to see. No one, especially not someone who has such a capacity for empathy and kindness, deserves to remain so mired in her own emotional discord."

The ground becomes soft under Kayla's feet, not quite like mud, more like tar, sticky and tacky beneath the snow, blackening and darkening it as she begins to slog through it. "All I want, all anyone wants, is to be happy. You deserve it, just as much as anyone else does. And no one, not me, not your co-workers, can take that from you. No one but you can prevent you from being happy again."

The shadow is stubbornly ignored; the figure suddenly reappearing in Kayla's path is harder to disregard. Gray eyes narrow, the woman's lips pulling back from her teeth. "Who the fuck do you think you are?" she snaps, her response a verbal lash.

She has to stop because there's someone in her way; ignores the way the mud sucks at her bare feet, sticks between the toes, stings in open scrapes. Discomfort is an eternal companion, and familiarity breeds contempt. So does presumed familiarity.

"Don't fucking try to tell me you think you know anything. Every word out of your mouth just says you don't have a bloody clue." The snap of her jaw, forceful shove of a hand against air, accentuate the words; emphasize the fuming anger that has become so much second nature, so much of a shield wall.

Kayla hisses, words failing momentarily to coalesce into coherence. "'Turn others' pain away'? You make it sound like I should be a fucking faith healer, fixing every goddamned person and dog in the whole damn city out of the goodness of my heart. Walk down a hospital ward so they don't have to lie in bed and wait. You fucking know what happens if I do something monumentally idiotic like that?"

Impassive, like a statue made out fo the snow gathered around at her feet, Hokuto's parchment white skin tightens at the corners of her eyes, the only subtle show of disapproval. But moreover, her face takes on a countenance of something softer despite that hidden tightness that the blindfold conceals. It is a look of something piteous, but one that is passing. "You smile."

The red light grows intense, a sudden flash of brightness that drowns out vision, but does not come with the expected heat and destruction. Instead, the light comes with warmth, turning yellow and gold in the reflection, burning white at its brightest. The light only fades with a creak of wood, when the glare from an opened window reflecting setting sunlight passes away from Kayla's eyes.

"Hey! There you are!" Red hair, glasses, a familiar turquoise bead necklace partly visible around the collar of a cotton t-shirt. Sarah Walker — she's thirteen years old, just like Kayla remembers her. "Um, I was… wondering if you could help study for the pre-algebra exam?" Her nose wrinkles up, scrunching freckles as she sidles over to a girl seated at a long library desk, her back to Kayla's vision.

"What happened to this girl?" The voice comes from beyond the bookshelves, yet sounds as though it should be right next to where Kayla stands, incongruently barefoot in the middle of a high-school library after class, it's a sunny day in October, Kayla remembers. Even if she's forgotten who the perky girl sitting at the table is, until she looks up to Sarah, smiling and enthusiastic.

"You know, Kayla." Dark black cotton fabric, stark white trim, and the dreamer is standing behind and to the side of Kayla, watching the scene of the children play out over her shoulder. "She's still in there, somewhere… wanting to take away your pain."

She flinches from the sudden intrusion of sunlight, looks with thinly masked apprehension at the sudden shift in location; while dream logic stretches to encompass many things, this is no part of her dream. Though it is in its own way nightmare enough.

Warmth. Not from the woman who stares at a half-remembered ghost from her past, but in the atmosphere, the seeming of sunlit library. Red droplets splatter onto the thin carpet, once, twice; Kayla pays them little heed.

The child smiles; the woman does not. Her features are set, lips thin; she stiffly refuses to look at Hokuto. "I don't." Know? Smile? Help people? The intruder can take it as she will.

Hokuto's head subtly tilts to one side, a hand moving up to rest on Kayla's shoulder from behind, light and unobtrusive, as warm as the sunlight, "You did." Her words direct attention to the way the two young girl's interact, the way Kayla Reed's younger self pulls a chair aside and happily welcomes the company of another, opens herself up.

"They say that a child has the potential to become anything, to do anything, and that it is only as they grow older that they learn to limit themselves, learn to put invisible boundaries and barriers up." The hand squeezes once, but in that same moment the feeling of the weight of the palm is gone. Now, instead of like before, Hokuto is an indistinct reflection in the windows of the library floor.

"Why don't you ask her?" The reflection in the glass asks, her words distant sounding now, "she was always so willing to help others." The sun shifts down lower on the horizon, and the reflection of Hokuto fades from the glass, leaving Kayla in the library with that last piece of advice.

Physician, heal thyself.

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