I woke up to see Beckett standing by the far window, a book in his hands, his brow furrowed as he read the pages; unaware of my arrival.
“I found you again,” I said, sitting up on the couch. Tonight was the first night I’d gone to bed with the intention of finding Beckett. There he was, the window behind him illuminating his figure. The light plays in his dark hair, making his skin look like it’s glowing.
“You came.” He said simply, the relief clearly showing on his face. “You look, cleaned up.” It came out awkward, I looked down at myself and laughed.
“True, they got some cool bathrooms in the Somnium Court.” I replied, smoothing out my white nightgown.
“So…” he sighed in relief, face crumbling. “So you guys got there safely? It was days, I wasn’t sure if you’d guys make it.” I noticed now that his whole jaw is bruised, it looks dark and painful.
“Yeah, we’re alright. What about you?” I try not to sound like I care too much, he doesn’t exactly deserve my sympathy.
“I deserve anything I get down here.” He muttered back after a long pause, is he saying that he’s being punished? My heart hurts at the idea of him being hurt, but a small voice in my head feels smug that he can feel like I did. No, that’s selfish.
I tried to ask more questions but he pushed forward. “So, how is the Dream Realm? Is it all that it’s talked up to be?” I shrugged, choosing to move along as he clearly wanted to.
“Everyone here calls me ma’am, and bows at me, or tries to help me walk places. You’d laugh if you were here. All the guys wear silk and pastels, your black t-shirts would make them dizzy.” A smile pulls at my lips at the image of Beckett in this court, his blades tucked away on his body standing next to golden boy Theodore.
“Sounds nauseating.” He agreed, coming over and plopping on the couch by me, his knees touching mine. They warm through the thin silk, so I pull them away.
“Yeah, they’re making me go to a dance or something so they can all stare at me and clap. I don’t even know how to dance.” My voice catches slightly, I blink away tears. Beckett doesn’t say anything, he stares and he waits for me to explain.
I do, “I was just a normal teenager. Sure, my parents were dead and I was numb but I was relatively normal. Then you and Ember showed up, suddenly I’m this super important person who is made up of stars and my whole world is turned upside down. Then, once I’m finally settled and used to that, I get locked in a cell and tortured.
"I risked my life for those souls, I went through excruciating pain for them. To save them, I nearly died. When I thought maybe I could handle that, I’m sent to this place where I feel like I’m on a show for everyone. They don't even really want the souls, I think. They just want to show off that they made the right choice in choosing me, like I'm some prize or something. How am I supposed to go to a ball, Beckett? I’ve never even been to a school dance.”
I trauma dumped on a guy who’s dad is a mass murderer, I groan, dropping my head into my palms. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be complaining. Your dad is evil and all that,” he doesn’t look upset at me though. I search his eyes for any negative emotions, all I find is warmth and understanding.
“Ok, get up.” Beckett said, pushing himself up off the couch and extending a hand to mine. My head swarms with my questions, the way he looks down at me makes my toes curl, and my mouth dry. There is no pain here, so when I reach to him and slide my hand into his, it’s just his palm against mine that makes my skin tingle.
“What’re we doing?” I breathed, not even noticing I was a bit out of breath. Beckett used the hand not holding mine to tuck a still damp hair behind my ear, then trailed it down my neck and shoulder, finally resting on my lower back.
“Teaching you to dance, I’ve taught you everything else you know. Might as well teach you this too,” his voice, while arrogant, is husky in my ear. I smacked his chest, only to rest my hand on the crook of his neck, near his bruise.
I try not to stare at it as he pulls me closer, our chests almost touching, instead I choose to stare into the eyes that I once feared so much.
Slowly, so slowly, he guides me by my waist. My bare feet stumble only slightly, but he holds me up on my tip toes so I’m barely doing any of the work.
“One, two, three, four,” I hear him whispering under his breath. I’d probably be learning the steps better, if I weren’t so very aware of his hand trembling slightly on my back. But then he releases my back, and steps out fully so our hands holding each other extend until we're reaching. I gasp at the sudden motion, but I smile at it. Then I’m twirling into him at the pull of his hand, my dress wrapping around my ankles as he pulls me to his side and lifts me.
Beckett, he never really stopped being my friend. He had a moment, a small moment, when he lost himself; I believe. Even then, he was always there. He visited me in my cell, got me water. I may not understand his motives, and I may never, but looking down at his face as I’m lifted and spinning; I know I don’t have it in me to hate him.
I should, oh how I should hate him. Here, in this library, I can’t. I’m always going to care, to search him out. Once my toes touch the floor once more his hand is back on my waist, and we’re stepping throughout the room in a waltz pattern. I don’t know if we’ve ever been this close for this long, I’m positive of that. I know once he finally releases me, I will be able to remember exactly where every single finger of his rested on me.
This close to him I notice how dark his lashes are, and that his silver eyes actually have specks of dark blue in them. I can see a small scar one his bottom lip, I have to resist the urge to touch it.
Hair falls forward on his forehead, falling into his eyes. I’m not afraid to push it back, to let my finger graze his sore jaw.
Beckett flinched, stepping away so our chests were no longer teasingly close. I feel bad for pushing his boundaries, but he smiled at me nonetheless.
“You’re a natural.” He said, “Dancing comes easier to you than fighting.” I rolled my eyes, ignoring my scorned ego at his missing warmth.
“You did most of the work.” Just like when he taught me to throw knives, his hand guided me then too. He’s always there, teaching me things, helping me. He laughed and pushed his hair fully off his face, but a few pesky stands fell back forward.
His black t-shirt is the same one I’d seen him wear last time I was here, is he not being able to change? I want to help him, but I can just sense that he doesn’t want me to talk about it anymore.
“I know your dance partner won’t be as fantastic at dancing as I am, but he will do.” Beckett agreed, choosing to sit back down on the couch. I don’t, I stand before him crossing my arms across my chest.
“Who says I need a dance partner?” I asked, and he raised his eyebrows in his normal cocky manner; clearly the moment was over.
“Um...you can’t dance without a partner.” Beckett responded, his tone ever so arrogant as he speaks the obvious. My cheeks flood with heat as I feel stupid.
“Right, well. Maybe I just won’t dance. I don’t want all of them looking at me anyways…” the truth is I don’t want to have any other dance partner besides Beckett.
“Dancing is easy. My mom taught me how when I was a child, and it’s like riding a bike. Besides, the guy does most of the work, you just stand there and look beautiful.” Does he think I look beautiful? I’m not stupid enough to ask that.
“Are you ok, Beckett?” I asked quietly, my voice barely above a whisper. Damn him if he won’t talk about it, I needed to know before I left. I stared him down, him sprawled casually on the couch, trying to convey pure stubbornness.
“Astra,” the way he says my name makes my heart skip a beat. “I am so sorry that I let you be captured. There were plans, going ons, behind the scenes that you just couldn’t know about. I’ll live with that guilt until I die.” I shake my head, he didn’t even answer my question.
“What’s going ons?” I demanded, pushing his limits. He sighed at my persistence, but he should know me by now. When I want something I go for it.
“Alatar told me they needed a man on the inside, Astra. Since I am of that Realm, and since he is my father, they thought I’d earn his trust quickest.” A man on the inside. Beckett was playing both sides, Alatar sent him into the hands of a killer for information. Parallax had been oblivious, just thought his son wanted to be powerful. I feel a little sick.
“If he’d caught you, he would have killed you.” I gasped, my brain searching for rationality in their decision. “You were a child, they risked your life for secrets?” I’m appalled, they thought of him as so disposable.
“Please know, I didn’t want to see you hurt. It was very hard for me to watch, and harder to know I put you there. But it was Alatar’s idea, he said you needed to be tricked in order to save people.” My blood boils at that, I feel betrayed and lied to. Not by Beckett, but by the guy who thought it so easy to just keep risking our skin.
“Where is he now? Alatar.” I grit out, my jaw tight with frustration. Beckett waves his hands, an attempt to calm me. I shake my head and step away, as much as I miss his warmth I don’t want to be touched right now.
“I don’t know. After I set you three free he disappeared, he left your uncle and I here.” My hitches, my uncle. “Steven is ok, I promise.” I give him the side eye, I’ve had enough of promises.
“Why should I trust anyone at this point?” I grumbled. My aunt and uncle lied to me my whole life, Ember and Beckett kept things from me, Beckett and Alatar both lied to my face. All for what? Beckett flinches at my snap, but nods.
“I know that I’ll have to earn your trust back, but I fully intend to.” The sun that streams through the window glows brighter, warming my back. “Good morning, Astra. Wake up now, before you worry my sister.”
“She misses you, I think.” I say, wanting nothing more than to stay with him.
“Tell her I love her,” and then he was gone.