I probably should’ve been surprised when I opened my eyes, but I wasn’t. Maybe because I knew it was a dream right away.
I would never have worn a dress like this while I was awake. And last time I checked, I was wearing a bathrobe. Unless Byron took it off while I was sleeping, but he usually only goes for my shirt when I’m awake.
As far as dreams went, it was a pretty nice one. If you were into the whole fairy aesthetic, anyway—I was kind of tired of it. But mysterious ancient towers were kind of cool, I guess.
Everything was so sparkly and pretty and alive…but not really. I felt like I could blow it out like a candle on a birthday cake if I took a really deep breath.
But it didn’t seem like I was going to wake up anytime soon, and I didn’t feel like standing around in a stupid glittery dress waiting for Byron to sleep-bite my boob. (I don’t think sleep-biting is a thing, but I’m not gonna fight with him over it.) It had been a while since I could explore on my own anyhow. With Byron and Lysander—and even Bianca—I didn’t get much time to myself now. I’d had plenty of time on my own growing up, so it wasn’t like I missed it or anything.
So I went for the stairs.
My bare feet didn’t make a sound against the stone steps—another clue it was just a dream.
Who would even live in a place like this? A fairy, probably. The flowers kind of gave it away, along with being all…kind of bright and hazy at the same time, I guess. Dreamy. But it also seemed kind of lonely, like there was only room for one person—or maybe one fairy.
How many freaking steps were there? It wasn’t like I was getting tired from climbing—my muscles and feet didn’t hurt or anything. But I was sick of all the steps.
Still, I wanted to see the top of the tower for some reason, even if there was nothing there.
When I finally reached the last step, I wasn’t surprised to find out I wasn’t alone. Could you be surprised in a dream? I couldn’t remember dreaming much. Byron made funny noises in his coffin when he was dreaming, like a dog. Though sometimes it was hard to tell whether he was asleep or awake.
“Hey, Pen,” Darius said. He didn’t turn to look at me, but he didn’t have to.
“Hey.” I slowly walked up beside him. “Nice dream.”
“It’s your dream, Pen,” he said. “Not mine.”
“I wouldn’t dream up a stupid dress like this.”
“Are you sure?”
“…Pretty sure. I guess.” I shrugged. “If it’s my dream, how come you’re here?”
He flashed a big smile—one I still wasn’t used to seeing on his stoic face, even if it was blue. “Because you wanted me to be.”
“Weird.” I stretched, even if my legs weren’t sore from all those steps. “Maybe it’s because I got bit by my dad recently. He’s a vampire, if that makes it less weird. And maybe when you’re sick, you just wanna see your family or whatever.”
“You still think of me as family, Pen?”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“Because I lied to you. Because I disappeared. Because you have someone else—two someones. There’s no room for me.”
I shook my head. “It’s not like you to feel sorry for yourself, Darius. And just because I have a brother and a boyfriend doesn’t mean I don’t care about you. Isla’s been acting the same way—she hasn’t called or texted once since I saw her.”
He closed his eyes and smiled. “Thanks, Pen.”
“Don’t thank me for the truth.” I looked around. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but how do I get out of here?”
“You wake up.”
“Yeah, I figured that. It’s a dream or whatever.” I traced a crack in the stone with my toe. “But I can’t seem to.”
“Maybe you’re looking for something, Pen. And you can’t wake up until you find it.”
“What the hell would I be looking for in a dream?”
“What does anyone look for in a dream?”
“Don’t get all weird on me now, Darius.” I took in the full sight of his…blueness—and then closed my eyes. It kind of felt like I was cheating on Byron just by looking at him. “Weirder.”
“Why did you climb to the top of the tower?”
I opened my eyes again. “I dunno. Because it was there, and I was bored, and it’s not like there are a lot of towers to climb in San Myshuno—well, skyscrapers and apartment buildings, I guess. Maybe I just thought I’d find something interesting.”
“You found me.”
“Yeah,” I said, smiling a little. “I did. But what’s that?” I pointed at a chest nearby.
“It looks like a chest to me, Pen.”
“I know that.” I’d forgotten that sometimes Darius could be even more frustrating than Byron—when he’d even bothered to talk at all.
“It has something inside. Something you need, I think.”
“Should I open it?”
“You can’t,” he said sadly. “Not unless you make me a promise.”
“But this is my dream. It’s mine, right?”
He gave a small shake of his head. “Not what’s inside. Will you give me something in return, Pen?”
“I guess. What am I supposed to give you?”
“Something equal to the gift of life, Pen.”
“…Yeah, I don’t even have a credit card. Part of an unused gift card, maybe, but nothing worth that much.”
“Not yet,” he said. “But you will, by the time I wake up.”
I wasn’t sure why I felt…worried? Sad? I trusted Darius. I’d always trusted Darius, even when he’d kidnapped Lysander and turned blue. Even after he lied to me. “You never held the snails for long,” I said, though I didn’t know why. “You let them go, if they wanted to leave.”
He only looked at me. “This is the way of the fae, Pen. I’m sorry.”
“Okay, Rumpelstiltskin. I’ll give you whatever, I guess. I trust you.”
“I don’t know who that is, Pen.”
“You’re a fairy. Shouldn’t you know all the fairy tales?”
He smiled and looked up at the sky. “I think that’s the first time you ever admitted what I am.”
“You’re Darius,” I mumbled. “That’s all that matters to me.”
“You’re going to have a happy life, Pen.”
“How do you know?” I could be a vampire soon, and then I wouldn’t be happy at all.
“Because you’re surrounded by people who love you.”
I didn’t know what to say to that. And then…he changed. I wasn’t surprised, though. Maybe because it was a dream.
“Pen,” said the Darius I once knew. “If you had the choice of helping someone dear to the people who love you, even if it cost you more, would you do it?”
“I dunno. Maybe. I guess.” I stopped to think about it. “…You gave me a lot, Darius. You and Isla both. I was just some kid…some human kid. But you made me feel like I had a family.”
“I kept secrets from you, Pen.”
“You kept my sadness from me, too. You didn’t have to hold all those memories for me for so long.”
“You cried so much those first nights, far from home. Isla wanted you to be quiet.”
“You didn’t do it for her.”
That smile looked so weird on his normal, not-blue face. “No, Pen,” he agreed. “I didn’t.”
“I’d help,” I decided. “People have been good to me. Not just you and Isla. I’m lucky.”
“Are you sure, Pen? The choice is yours to make, but you can’t take it back.”
He pressed something into my hand—a key, but it didn’t feel like metal. “Take this. You’ll be able to open the chest, when the time is right.” Or did he say ripe?
“Thanks, Darius.” I glanced at the chest, then back at him. “Dream-hug?”
“I’d like that, Pen.” And then his arms were around me, and I was kind of sad it was a dream. I had a feeling I wouldn’t dream about him again for a long, long time.
And then I was kneeling in front of the mysterious chest in my glittery purple dress that showed off way too much cleavage. Bianca probably would’ve had Words to say about that. But maybe the time was right now and I could open it already.
“Sweet dreams,” Darius said. “And good luck, Pen.”
When I lifted the lid of the chest, my eyelids opened instead.