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Tending the Foundations

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Yue knew she was stalling, but she couldn't help herself, giving the Sanctum a last once over before she conjured up her portal to Hong Kong.  Unhelpfully, the Sanctum was in better condition than when she had arrived two weeks earlier, and showed no signs of catastrophic infestation or other distractions. Although several doors were still off their hinges and there was quite a bit of plaster and woodwork damage to repair, the walls were sound, the utilities paid for and functioning, the kitchen was stocked, and the wifi router had even quit power cycling itself randomly ever 2 hours plus or minus 30 minutes.  

The only thing that she couldn't fix was the refrigerator, which had lost its capacity to stay colder than 45 degrees; for that, she would need outside help, most likely from the shrines, since she had heard nothing from Jamal.  However, Sunday morning was not a time when people usually dealt with such things.

In other words, Yue had no reason to skip her therapist appointment today. And she knew perfectly well that she ought to go see Dr. Inaka - and that she would actually probably feel better after seeing Dr. Inika, at least in the long run. (She sometimes felt a bit like she'd been kicked in the soul after some of her visits, but those were usually the ones where she was instructed to remove her head from the sand.) 

Going today would mean leaving the place she had slowly been constructing into being her home, and would open herself up to probing questions that were potentially mightily uncomfortable to deal with.  And Yue was more in the mood to fight demons than she was to poke at the damage in the corners of her own psyche.

Alas, the date on the calendar didn't particularly care that she wanted it to be any day other than Sunday. Moreover, the Sanctum was doing its best to let her out of its doors.  She had no excuse.

Yue pulled out her sling ring and opened the portal to the familiar waiting room in the Hong Kong Sanctum, where she had spent hours killing time with Angry Birds while she waited for her therapist to finish up with her prior patient in the queue.  Early on, those waiting periods had been filled with dread. Now...they were less dreadful, but more frustrating, because Yue wanted to be done, wanted to be healed , or at least recovered.

The waiting room smelled of the usual sandalwood incense, and for once, there was no one else ahead of her in the queue. Dr. Inika's door was open, and Yue could hear the sound of the small waterfall fountain her therapist kept as both a meditation exercise and a generator of white noise.  "Yue, is that you?"

"Yes," Yue said, slipping into the room and closing the door behind her.

Dr. Inika smiled.  "Doctor Strange tells me you're settling in," she began, and then raised an eyebrow at Yue's startled inhalation.  "Oh, you didn't know he'd talked to me?"

Yue shook her head.  "Did he...what did he say ?" she demanded, feeling a prickle of heat in her cheeks as her inner mortification tried to broadcast itself to the world - or at least her therapist.

"He stopped by a few days ago, to tell me that he knew that patient confidentiality bound me from talking to him - you knew he was a medical doctor, yes?" At Yue's confused nod, she continued, "And to tell me that as your colleague rather than your doctor, he didn't expect to be privy to anything private - but that if I wished to pass along anything that would help you, he'd listen."

Yue sat down on her usual stool in a confused daze.  "That's...kind of him," she managed finally. "Did he…did he tell you I had a panic attack?"

Dr. Inika shook her head.  "I expect he would consider that a breach of his own patient-doctor confidentiality practices," she said, her expression sober.  "You had a panic attack? What brought that on?"

Yue sighed and launched into a description of knocking the library door off its hinges, and her subsequent panicking, and then how Dr. Strange had been so kind to her, giving her the time she needed to work her way out of it.  She finished off with, "And do you know what happened to his hands?  I don't want to pry - I just want to help him. But I don't know how far I can go with any assistance before it starts, I don't know, starts implying that I think he's incapable or something."

Dr. Inika shook her head. "I've only heard bits and pieces. Nerve damage of some kind.  My impression of the man is that he does not want pity, so if you offer him options without implying anything - and he's not already on edge - he's unlikely to take it the wrong way."

Yue smiled crookedly at the "not already on edge," and said, "So, not when we've just finished battling spirits from another dimension."

"No, definitely not then," her therapist said, smiling. "Have you?"

"Once," Yue said.  "I could have handled one , but there were six of them, and that was a bit much."

"Indeed.  And what did you do?"

"I called for help, of course," Yue said.  "I'm the Seneschal, not the Master, after all."

Dr. Inika looked at her out of the corners of her eyes, as she jotted something down on her ever-present yellow notepad.  "Li Wei would say that a Seneschal's job is to defend," she pointed out.

"Li Wei is 57 years old and has been a Master for at least twenty of those years," Yue retorted.  "He would tell me that I was being stupid and overzealous, and make me scrub the pots in the kitchen for a week without a dishwasher or magic to help me. Why are you talking like Mama -- ah, you're testing me again, aren't you," she said, grinning and feeling rather like a tormented cat that has successfully pounced on a mouse that has been out of reach for much too long..

"Yes, well," Dr. Inika said, waving one hand and smiling back at Yue.  "I did want to make sure you weren't feeling like an imposter. If you were, then Li Wei and I would have to discuss whether we needed to take some restorative action."

Yue sobered.  "Imposter no," she said slowly.  "But it's possible that Dr. Strange is being made to feel that way, and if the other Sanctum Masters chose to take that out on me, I don't know how well he'll handle it.  I know there was a meeting of the Masters a few days ago that I had to call him out of - to deal with the incursion. But I may be a...source of some difficulty for him." Useless girl child, her mother's voice whispered in her mind before she could squelch it.

"Hmph," Dr. Inika said.  "I won't have that. If anyone questions your competence, you will send them to me, Yue, is that clear, and I will send them to Li Wei if they don't listen to me?  I won't have them undoing all your hard work at repairing the damage your mother did to you."

Yue smiled weakly. "Thank you, Dr. Inika."

"Now," Dr. Inika said, "I'd like to hear what you did for the first few days while you were avoiding the Sanctum Master. I'm sure you weren't just sitting on your hands…"

Settling herself more comfortably onto the stool, Yue launched into an account of the rest of her activities, aware that Dr. Inika would likely have praise for some and healthy criticism for others, but feeling both warmed by her therapist's defense of her, and more centered than she had been since Li Wei had told her why she had to leave the Hong Kong Sanctum.

When she was done with her visit with Dr. Inika, Yue ducked back into the Hong Kong Sanctum proper briefly to check in with Li Wei and see if he needed anything, and to snag something from the kitchen that she hadn't made herself.  She found herself ambushed by rather more people than she had expected, and Li Wei (who had a devious mind that Yue was well aware of) still managed to surprise her by pulling a giant tray of sesame rice balls out of the fridge while even more people crowded themselves into the kitchen to cheer for her and toast her with the balls.

She headed back to New York feeling a bit like she was floating, but also grateful to get back to a place where she could process some of what she'd talked about with Dr. Inika in solitude.  She could feel her shoulders trying to creep up around her ears, feel the tension beginning to ratchet itself into a headache at the base of her skull.

Yue knew herself well enough (after half-a-dozen years of therapy) to know that she had to let her subconscious chew on things for a bit before she could look at them square on.  Whatever was bothering her needed time. So she collected the cordless drill she'd left charging on the kitchen counter, and the new hinges for the library doors, and headed upstairs to see if she could distract herself usefully and possibly decompress a bit.

Thus it was that had put on her headphones and turned AGA's Ginadoll album up loud, tucked four screws in her mouth, and was just climbing the ladder to start trying to hang the hinges when her phone chimed at her that she had email at the seneschal's address.

Yue growled in irritation, put the drill down, and picked up her phone.

Subject: Got you a line on a fridge

Need your phone number. Found a fridge - scratchndent but it works. Butt ugly but you can fix that right? Need to move it soon tho or theyll junk it.

- J, 3325559167

Yue sighed. She was not going to get her break to think.  She folded the ladder, set it off to one side where it wouldn't trip anyone, returned the drill to its charger and the screws and hinges to their paper bag, swapped her robes for a pair of battered grey sweatpants and a faded blue sweatshirt, then returned to the kitchen to set out her mug and a canister of the loose-leaf tea she kept for days when she couldn't stand the universe. At least when I'm done I won't need to think.

Once that was in place, she retrieved a stack of bills from the seneschal's safe, shoved them into her pocket with a small dimensional portal, pulled up her phone again, and texted, Send me a picture of someplace nearby I can put up a portal.

A good 5 minutes later, she got a shot back - slightly blurry - of an alley with some rather distinctive graffiti.  Staring at it for a moment, she fished out her sling ring, focused...stepped through and locked her phone.

Jamal was standing at the mouth of the alley, looking nervous.  Yue closed the portal behind her - better to not leave it open, in case of random passersby - and took a deep breath of old garbage and human urine. "Where have you brought me?" she asked Jamal, wondering if she ought to be ready to summon up her spear.

"Jersey," Jamal said in a tone of some moderate disgust.  "They didn't tell me we'd have to get it 'cross the river, but I guess that don' matter to you so much."

"And this is legal? I am not interested in breaking the law."

"Yeah, it's legal. Liquidation sale - restaurant went under'n stuff. Fridge didn't sell, probl'y cause it's so big and there's a buncha dings in the front. Works, though, an' matches what you tol' me you needed."  Jamal didn't look offended at her asking, though he did hunch his shoulders a bit. She decided his feelings on the matter were probably closer to "Resigned," and wondered how often he'd been asked if what he was doing was legal.

"Good," she said, "thank you for checking.  Very well - if it is in functional condition, we will get it outside with their help, and then I will tell you to go back for the truck."  As his eyebrows rose, she added with a smile, "There isn't one, of course, but then you are not left standing about. They will not expect you to be back across the bridge quickly, so when they become bored and go back inside, I will simply portal it back to the Sanctum and meet you there."

"Damn, lady, you know your heists."

Yue grimaced. "No. I merely know that people become bored and inattentive when nothing interesting is happening."  And I know how to encourage that to happen faster, she added silently.  Jamal did not need to know that.

"Says you," he said, grinning, and turned left out of the alley.

Three bored young men were hanging out at the door of a shuttered restaurant - even the signs had been taken down, which told Yue that whatever had shut the place down, it was probably more malevolent than simply "going out of business."  The one who seemed to be in charge - a white boy with his blond hair dyed a particularly unappealing shade of green - straightened up when Jamal walked back with Yue.

His eyes raked her up and down once, taking in her faded sweats, her Asian appearance, and her apparent harmlessness, and then he leered. "Ni hao, lady," he said in particularly snide tones, "I hear you wanna buy a fridge."  And he gestured at the lurking black monstrosity of a refrigerator behind him through the open double doors. Industrial, certainly, but the right size, just as Jamal said.

Yue's eyes narrowed.  Oh, it's going to be THIS sort of trash fire, I see. "Oh, no, no," she said in a sing-song tone. "So solly, want to buy refligelatoh, not flidge. Solly, solly, no bothah you."  She gave him a mocking bow, then turned to the young man on his right, a boy with the flag of Brazil on his sideways baseball cap.

In Portuguese, she continued, "Would you care to tell your friend here that if he doesn't want to eat the cost of transporting that monster to the dump, he can take $400 from me in cash, or I will walk away right now?"  As the Brazillian's jaw dropped, she added, "Congratulations on the Olympic football win."

That got a laugh out of him, while the blond boy looked back and forth between them and a furious demand, "Speak English, dammit!"

"Mark my man," the Brazillian drawled, looking from Yue to the blond, "The lady here says she's willing to pay $400 in cash for the monster, take it or leave it."

As Mark spluttered, the other young man said, "Take it, Mark, you hauled us all the way out here already. Shouldn't've dissed her like that."

"Fine, but you can move it yourself then," he snapped, and held out his hand. Yue reached into her pocket, pulled out a stack of $20s, and made a show of counting them, putting only one back in her pocket. It was slight of hand - she had quite a bit more, but she didn't want the young men to know that. Mark dropped a key on the ground at her feet with a sneer, and then stormed off, his two companions walking more slowly after him.  She heard a car engine start.

Jamal let out his breath in one big rush. "Wow. Sorry. Wasn't expecting that."

"It happens," Yue muttered. "Even at home. Stupid tourists are like that too."  She bent to pick up the key. "At least it got him to leave sooner. How much do I owe you?"

"Uh, he was asking $2500 originally, but…"

Yue smiled weakly. "I would much rather pay you ," she said, and counted off another nineteen 20 dollar bills for him. "There. 15 percent, as agreed."  She turned to the locked doors. "Please let me know if it sounds like they are returning."

She heard Jamal mutter something, but her attention was focused on her ring, on the portal she was conjuring, on the exact place in the storage rooms where she would put it until she could move the old fridge out of the way.  As the portal began forming around it, she added a second set of gestures to create a levitation spell beneath it, keeping it from plummeting through the hole so much as lowering it slowly as if it were on an elevator.

A brilliant orange elevator.

When it was safely down, Yue felt incredibly drained.  "Good night, Jamal," she said, weary beyond just the spellcasting.

"Uh...good night Yue," he said slowly in response.  "Um, thanks. Thanks for...for not stiffing me out of my fee, even if Mark was bein' a dick."

"You're welcome," Yue said, more as an automatic response than anything else. And then, "See you another time." She stepped through the portal she called, back to her own kitchen.

Where she found Doctor Strange sitting at the counter with a cup of her tea of relaxation cradled between his shaking hands.  He took one look at her and slid it across the counter to her, before turning to start the kettle boiling again.

Yue didn't even have it in her to argue with him that she should be making the tea. She just sat down, cupped the mug between her palms, and let the smell of lavender and chamomile waft up to her nose.

He let her sit in silence. Or, perhaps, she allowed him to keep his own silence, she thought. Regardless, the two of them did not need words.  When Yue finally heaved herself up with a sigh to go and fix dinner, the master of the Sanctum said, "The fridge died while you were in Hong Kong. I put the empanadas and other stuff in Loa , but we shouldn't leave them there long or they'll freeze solid." 

Yue stopped, then giggled faintly. "I would never have thought of using another dimension as our freezer. What a...novel idea.  There's a new fridge in the basement, we just have to get rid of the old one."

"I'll send it to the dump," the Doctor said. "You go get some rest, you look done in."  Yue looked over her shoulder at him, saw no condemnation. "I'm not a mind healer. But healing takes energy. Any kind."

Yue nodded slowly. "Thank you, sir."

"Stephen," he said.

Yue frowned momentarily, thinking of Master Fei and Li Wei, and then she nodded again. "Stephen. And I am Yue.  Thank you. Let me know when the new freezer is cold, and I will help put the food back."

He nodded back at her, and then went back to drinking his tea.  Yue wondered what sort of day he must have had, to be drinking chamomile and lavender too, and so she added, "And then it will be your turn to rest."

He quirked a half smile at her. "Turnabout is fair play, hm?"

Yue sighed. "If I am to be close enough to you to call you Stephen, and you to call me Yue, then I must be allowed to tell you to take care of yourself, yes?"

He raised the tea in a salute of silent assent, and Yue went to lie down.