Next thing I know I’m waking in the library, I gasp jerking awake.
“Astra?” His voice calmed my racing heart, I found him by the window once more, but he came to my side and knelt by the couch. “Hey, are you ok?” Slowly he sits me up, I notice I’m still in my red gown.
“What happened?” I asked, as if he’d know. “Last thing I remember was Theo walking me back to my room…” his eyes darkened at that.
“Theo?” An angry eyebrow, I haven’t seen his eyes this cold in a while. “Who’s Theo? Why was he walking you to your room?” Have I made a mistake? I shake my fuzzy head, no, why would he be angry?
“Theodore, he’s the Prince of the Somnium Realm, we danced and then he was walking me back to my room…” I still can’t remember then what. Beckett pushed away from me then, his eyebrows furrowed.
“Did he hurt you? I swear if he hurt you-” I stood to go to him, but the cold anger in his eyes kept me at bay.
“No! He wouldn’t! He’s been nice to me, he’s very sweet actually-” this time it’s Beckett who cuts me off.
“You got yourself a Prince Charming?” He laughed, it was cold and dry. “No, no. That’s good, you deserve it.” I stand there numbly, unsure of myself.
“Beckett…” I mutter, because I never should have even mentioned Theo’s name. He waved me off though, and I find myself aching to reach for him.
“Do you like him?” His eyes, pained and annoyed, stared me down. I should lie, or think of something to change the subject. Or even tell him about the king’s plans, but I don’t.
“It’s easy with him. There’s no pain.” It’s not even entirely true, I’d only know him a day; but when I was with him there was something comfortable with his presence.
His eyes lose the anger and they’re left with agony, they water as they stare at me. “Do you think you could love him?” We shouldn’t even be talking about this, not when everything else is going on.
Before I could even respond, “you deserve everything good in this world, Astra. I’m sorry for any pain I’ve caused you.” I reach for him, my own eyes watering.
“Please don’t talk like that, you don’t know how I feel-” he doesn’t know that I search for him always, even in crowds of strangers at a party. He doesn’t know that I’ve found it in me to forgive him, that I don’t blame him for what’s happened. That my skin misses his, that when I’m not dreaming I’m missing him.
“I know that our souls are not meant to intertwine, that anything you may feel for me needs to be squashed.” Ouch, the pain builds in my throat. Everytime I think I’m getting somewhere with him.
“Please-” my voice catches. This is all so stupid, this is a nightmare.
“Let yourself love him, Astra. It’s easy, right? Let yourself be happy. And when the day comes to kill me, do it quickly.” No, no! I feel like everything crumbled around me, please no. He’s gone.
I’m left alone.
“Beckett!” I scream, whirling and searching. “Beckett, come back!” The tears flow now, I feel my chest shattering. Why can’t I choose? Why can’t I choose him? To not have to be his demise?
“Beckett!” I screamed again, my throat aching. He’s gone.
“Astra? Open your eyes for me, look at me.” Ember. I push for her, struggling against a headache and smothering darkness. “Can you hear me? Come back to me, Astra.” I push harder.
“Ember?” I croak, prying my eyes open. I’m in my bed, I can see the canopy above me. Ember cradles my cheeks, peering into my eyes. Theo stands on the side of the bed, looking down carefully.
“Oh! You’re ok!” Her eyes are red, I try to sit up but they both keep me against my pillow.
“Peachy,” my own eyes are wet with tears. Only they don’t know what I’d just gone through. That Beckett signed his own death sentence, and told me goodbye. How had I forgotten that my job is to kill him, that he had been born to kill me?
“Astra, I’m so sorry I don’t know what happened! My dad is having the glasses you drank from checked for poison...we think someone tried to kill you.” Theo explained, his voice quick and tight with anxiety.
“Someone tried to kill me? Here? I thought it was safer here…” I trailed off. Would I ever be safe? We don’t talk, as Ember pats a cool cloth on my warm body.
“Astra, I’m so very sorry. I never thought anyone would try to harm you.” Theo dore said again, I can hear the genuine sympathy in his voice. I register it, and I hate it.
I look over at the kind golden boy, and all I can feel is anger. Because of the time I spent with him, feelings I may eventually feel for him, I’ve lost my friend. It’s not his fault, I know that in my bones...but right now I don’t even want to see his face.
“Thank you, Theo. For bringing me to my room. Would you please leave Ember and I? So I can bathe and rest?” Theo nodded, eyes still sympathetic with me. He gives a bow, and a kiss to my hand, before leaving the room silently.
“I’ll go run your bath,” Ember said, and she left me on the bed alone. Alone. How is it so that even surrounded by people that care, I only want the one that doesn’t want me. I hear the water running and I force myself to fully sit up, my head throbs and my bones ache.
“Oh, easy.” Ember murmured, coming over and resting a hand on my back to help me stand.
“Some tried to kill me man, poison me. What the actually hell.” I grumbled, swaying slightly as I walked. She laughed dryly.
“You just can’t catch a break, can you?” She doesn’t even know what’s really bothering me, how my heart breaks right now. That her face, beautiful as it is, is a stabbing reminder of my fate. That Beckett is my fate, but not in the way that I want him to be.
Her fingers, gentle and careful, undid my gowns and let them both drop to my feet. Then she kindly holds my hand and helps me into the tub. The water takes away the soreness in my bones, and I lay there just breathing for a long moment.
“I’m sorry, Astra, that I wasn’t there to protect you.” Embers voice trembled, so I looked at her and tried to seem carefree.
“It’s not your job, Ember-”
“Except it is, it really is. It’s my job to keep you alive, and then some asshat tries to poison you. I guess the distraction really did work,” she laughed again dryly but I saw her pained eyes. She no longer wears her extravagant black gown, instead now she only wears a white nightgown as she pours shampoo into her hand and begins to wash my hair for me.
I could do it myself, I really could. But I’m so tired, and I’m thankful for the help. “Do you think Ashton and River are distractions? That they’re oblivious like Theo?” As she rinses my hair, hands still so gentle, she ponders this.
“Lean forward,” Ember encourages, and begins washing my back. “Well, if they are distractions, they’re very handsome ones.” I smiled, it’s true.
“It’s like a requirement to be attractive here, or something? I haven’t seen a single ugly person here.” Ember nodded in agreement, as though she isn’t the prettiest one.
“I don’t know if Ashton is in on it, he genuinely seems to like me.” She murmured, combing the conditioner through my hair now.
“Do you like him?” My friend deserved to be happy, more so than anyone. Though, we all have truly been dealt awful hands in this godforsaken game.
“I think, if he was sent by the king? Then it was awfully bold of Erran to assume I even like guys.” Her words weigh heavy, her voice shaking slightly with fear of my reaction. So I remain unfazed, shrugging nonchalantly.
“Who would be better to distract you?” Another long pause, this one lasting as she rinsed my hair, helped me from the tub, and dried me off. I could do this all myself, but I feel sore and weak, so I accept the help graciously.
It was after slipping my gown over my head when, “Phoebe is quite pretty, isn’t she?” Her eyes are tense with anxiety as she searches my face for any negative emotions.
I only smile at her, “she really is.” I agreed, and a wide smile broke out on my friend’s face. “Are you going to go for it?” She knows what I mean, but she shook her head and left the bathroom, so I followed.
“No, it’s not what I’m supposed to be doing, I let myself get sidetracked by the soldier but I need to help you-” I groan and drop my hands to slap my thighs in indignation.
“Ember, when are you going to let yourself be happy?” Since I met her a month ago all she’s worried about is me, when will it be her time? My friend dropped onto my bed, eyes watering.
“I don’t know!” Her voice edged, “maybe after you defeat Parallax? After I know my brother is even alive?” Shit, she doesn’t even know he’s alive. I’ve been selfish, I realize.
“Ember,” I stand myself in front of her. “I’ve been visiting Beckett, since we escaped, he’s alive.” Her eyes don’t flicker with relief, no. They show anger at first, this shocked me.
“You’ve known he was ok this whole time and didn’t tell me?” Ember demanded, her voice the harshest I’d ever heard it.
I don’t let that deter me, “yes, and I’m sorry. He’s ok, and I learned more about things behind the scenes. Ember, Beckett didn’t willingly go dark. He was sent there undercover by Alatar, to be an inside man! Beckett never wanted this,” there’s a long pause while we both let that settle in. Then her rage melted and she let out a sob, dropping her face into her eyes as she shook with her tears.
I jumped on the bed, ignoring my sore legs, wrapping my arms around her quivering shoulders. I shushed her, rubbing her back and comfortingly as I could.
“I’m sorry for not telling you,” I murmured, squeezing her tighter.
“He’s ok!” She finally gasped out, and I nodded even though she couldn’t see me. “My brother, he’s ok.” Well, maybe not. But I decided to leave that part out, more selfishness on my part. “I’ve been so afraid,” she admitted.
“I know, I’m sorry.” And I am sorry, she pulls away and we climb under the covers.
“I’m just relieved.” Ember finally said, and it took the pressing weight off my chest. We lay there silently, staring at my canopy for a long moment.
“He’s Parallax’s weapon,” I admitted, not wanting to have any more secrets.
Quietly, “I was afraid of that.” More silence, I reach and grab her hand under the blankets for comfort.
“We will figure this out, I’m not losing you guys.” I promised, though I’m not sure how empty that promise was.
“No matter what, I’ll have your back.” No, I wouldn’t ask that of her. Especially when the day comes that I do have to defeat the weapon. I would not ask Ember to watch her brother die.
We sit in silence for a long time after that, so long that I hear her breathing slow to the point of slumber. I feel alone again, in that moment.
How am I supposed to walk away from this with everyone I care about ok? I feel like a small child lying there, unable to make any decisions. What do I even want, I have to wonder? Only one thing is painfully obvious, it slicing in my mind and embeds itself there. The one alternative that wasn’t supposed to happen, so of course it has occurred.
“I think I’m falling in love Beckett,” I say, my whisper sounding like a scream in the overwhelming silence. My heart races, the only noise I hear. Admitting it was harder than coming to terms with it. Then finally, so quiet, so smug.