Starlight, star bright...
The night swelled darkly around her, thousands of stars glittering like the remembrance of past sins. Past sins that haunted her, because they were not hers. Past sins that taunted her, because they could not be changed. Past sins that daunted her, because they would not be easy to overcome.
She may have gotten a sinner, but she'd wanted a saint. Someone who cared about more than carnal pleasures, who understood that sometimes you had to think beyond yourself. When she stopped to think about it, she admitted she wanted someone who cared about who she was, not what she was. And especially not what she wasn't.
First star I see tonight, she vowed, walking slowly along the side of the road, waiting to catch a glimpse of moonlight-drenched sand glistening in the distance, I'll promise it anything. Anything in exchange for this spell to work.
Anything except death, she thought now, frowning, because death would defeat the purpose, and then any trade would be pointless. What was the use of getting her wish if she didn't have the time to enjoy it? Though she was relatively sure either outcome -- that the spell worked or that she died -- would make Dare ecstatic. She would be beautiful or she would be dead, but no longer a concern.
The road ended abruptly. She paused, bending to slip her shoes from her feet into her backpack, and padded easily through the sliding sand. It clung to her feet in damp patches, slipping between her toes. She loved the beach, with its salty smell, its age-old crystals ground to nothing more than tiny, glorious flakes, and the stunning wildness of the flowing tide. That feeling of being lost, and insignificant, next to something so grand.
Now if only she could make Dare willing to share that with her.
Wish I may -- no, stop wishing, she chided. It hasn't done you any good in the past and it won't do you any good now.
It was nice to hope, though. Truly. Oh, she knew better than to think he would give in gracefully, or to think that one flying whisper of hope would reach those stars and be answered. Wish upon a star, and you will feel nothing. Nothing but the illusion of cold light trickling down from those burning heights.
And even that really does not touch you.
She wondered why the stars made her feel so alone. Was it because they dreamed millions of miles away from where she walked through the sand? Or was it because they watched apathetically as she shattered into sparkling shards that would have mirrored their light, if anything had been left of her? She was just an empty void.
Wish I might, she thought, before she could stop herself, wish I might be different. My life might be different. Hope rocketed through her once again. All it took was a catalyst. Just one tiny change to set off the reaction she wanted, and maybe, just maybe, he would look at her as a person.
The jagged rocks loomed ahead of her, sprouting from the sand like a band of Tritons ready to call the washing waves at the first signal from Poseidon. They looked dark and dangerous. And she was really going to crawl on them in the dead of night to perform a spell that may or may not help?
She must be brain-dead.
Or simply desperate. What an awful thought. Something she had never wanted to be, or thought she *could* be. It was funny how things and people changed. A week ago, she might have laughed and walked away. Now it had gone too far for that.
Oh, of all the addictions she could possibly have, Dare was the last one she wanted. If nothing else, she hoped she got closure out of this whole ordeal. At least then it would have been good for something.
She laughed suddenly, realizing just how pessimistic her view actually was. Why was she even worried? Everything was going to work out. She wouldn't delude herself into thinking things were going to be perfect after this, but eventually, it would be better.
And maybe, she thought, I'll have the wish I wish tonight.
Reaching the jutting rocks quickly, she slung her bag securely over her shoulder, fastening it to her side. At least she was doing something about it, right? It would be too easy to sit back and to whine or cry about how sad it was that her soulmate didn't want her, what a pity it was that he was such a jerk. But honestly, she was sick of all the taunts and jeers that came her way. She was fed up with being treated as inferior simply because she wasn't pretty.
Squinting through the dark, she looked for the familiar hollow in the rock, the one that made climbing easier. It was too dark to see. Wrinkling her nose and knowing this wasn't going to be fun, she reached up until her hand found what seemed to be a good grip.
Dare obviously thought she was a doormat. Easy to walk on, easy to access, and easy to throw away when it got too annoying or messy. She hoped this inverted his world so completely he'd need a full tool set and a couple of aspirins to get it right again.
Vindictiveness singing through her blood, she hoisted herself over the rocks' sharp edge. Pausing to catch her breath, she closed her eyes and tried to control her breathing. Enough. She was almost there. Clutching at the bag, she inched forward.
The slippery rock cut into her hand as she half climbed, half hopped across the jagged surface. Seaweed clogged shadowed cracks and hung limply into the edge of shallow pools. The salty air simmered sultrily around her. Behind her, the waves crashed angrily against far-away rocks.
If she was right, she had nearly two hours before the tide came in. Plenty of time to finish and be safely away from here. She'd heard too many stories of people who had perished on their greedy slopes. Joining them was not on her list of things to do tonight.
The spell was. She hoisted herself over one last, blunt peak, then paused, staring down at the secluded pocket of water in front of her. She didn't know anyone else who knew about this place, nestled deep in the network of biting boulders. How many times had she come here, searching for something she'd never find? She wasn't sure she could count that high.
Carefully, she eased herself down the slanting incline until she felt her feet touch fine sand. The air hung warm here, warmer than outside the rocky shelter, where mist shot hazily to the apex of the sunken sky. It was drier, too, as though protected by a thick globe of glass.
And oddly, a curious light filtered from the heavens, slicing through that mist in scorching rays. The midnight darkness should have black or obscure, but here, the sun glowed.
She never questioned this phenomenon, just accepted that it was one of those magical places time did not touch. The stench of magic hung heavy in the air, so thick it was almost tangible. Sparkling specks of glittering quartz littered the boulders around her. An enchanted place, where the water always flowed fresh and dreams flew free.
"You're such a romantic, Tierney," she muttered, amusement threading through her quiet voice.
Laughing at herself, she set the book bag on the ground, leaning it against one of the towering rocks. It slumped limply to the side. Instead of fixing it, she straightened, letting her spine uncoil lazily as she stretched toward the heavens. She paused like that, suspended in the bizarre night air, and simply breathed.
Her muscles relaxed slowly, curling out of that tense pose like a lion stretching in mid-morning sun. A moment later she was kneeling. The zipper on her backpack stuck, just like always, and the realization was comforting, if somewhat annoying. With a sharp tug, it sprang free. She dipped one hand inside, searching blindly for her packet of herbs. It took her a moment to find them.
She'd picked each of these herbs with a special purpose. Thyme for daring, which made her laugh, because it reminded her of him. Cinnamon, for protection and purity. Dandelion, for making wishes. Hibiscus, for love and lust, though this one worried her. And finally, calla lily for magnificent beauty.
A moment later, a fraction of those containers had been emptied into her hands, the packets themselves strewn around her. Taking a deep breath, she committed herself. Witchfire flared to life in her hands, heating each of the herbs under the soft orange glow. She dropped them into the water, sweeping her hand over the surface and letting the scent suffuse the air around her, drowning out the smell of salt.
How odd to be near a beach and not sense that.
Instead, the aroma smelled vaguely of a party drink Raquel had made once, during her brief, two-day domestic kick. Slightly tropical, with just a touch of homey warmth. She let their essence sink into her senses, relaxing her and warming her just as surely as Raquel's drink.
Dipping her hand back into her backpack, she withdrew a fat white candle and a wickedly sharp knife. A little more digging yielded a book of matches. She set the candle in the sand next to her, pushing it down until she knew it sat securely, and straightened it carefully. Then she flipped open the matches. Extracting one, she pressed it against the flint and drew it across the strip quickly. A bright orange flame flared to life. She cupped her hand around it, protecting that fragile spark, then touched it to the wick. With a hiss, the candle lit.
Another foray into the bag revealed a rough chunk of alexandrite for opening the heart (which she hoped was a figurative translation) and self-esteem. She forced that into the rapidly melting candle wax, far enough away from the flame that nothing disastrous should happen.
Next she removed the packet containing the strands of her hair. Three of them, curling wildly in the humid pocket of air. She twisted them together and tied them into a knot, careful not to break the strands. Knotting herself into the spell…
Don’t think about it, she scolded herself silently, when that thought made her rear back and reconsider what she was doing. Just finish it and go home.
“Unto these strands, I shall be bound.”
Her voice broke. Pushing her worries away, she reknotted those strands, then reknotted them again, repeating those words like the pseudo-mantra it was. Bound. She placed her fingers over the thick knot and dangled the long, curling ends directly in the path of the candle’s flame. It withered under the heat. Not to mention that the smell was *horrible*. Wrinkling her nose, she dropped the knotted part into the flame. It flashed like a clap of lightning.
She closed her eyes. One last packet of herbs, this one containing wormwood for binding. “You are a just an extension of me, so you, too, are bound.”
Sprinkling the last herb into the water, she watched as the accompanying spark resonated when it breached the surface. Her tongue flicked nervously over her lower lip. She swallowed hard and picked up the knife lying near her right knee.
“We are just a reflection,” she whispered, gripping the knife tighter. “Inside, we are just a reflection.” Taking a deep breath, steadying her voice, she continued, “We are each one half of the mirror.”
The candle’s flame blew out, as if a gust of wind flowed through the rock’s shelter. But Tierney had felt no air currents. Just that pressing weight of heavily-scented air.
Her heart pounded like an overworked gas pump and she expected the explosion to be just as deadly. Goddess, what if this didn’t work? She adjusted her grip, biting into her lower lip. Then she placed the tip of the knife at the tip of her finger and pressed down with a sharp stabbing motion. Blood welled from the shallow wound.
“Blood seals our binding.”
Now all she needed was...
... a few drops of his blood. And, oh, Goddess, this was not going to be pleasant, because she knew of only one way to get it. She added a small piece of apophyllite to help that aspect of the spell. It really was supposed to be used for out of body travel, but she figured what she was doing was close enough that it would help.
“And with his blood, the mirror will be whole.”
She pitched forward into the inky water.
When she opened her eyes, she found herself standing inside a room. A very masculine room. All dark colors and Spartan surfaces, bare walls and an entertainment center that would put Sony to shame. But none of that really caught her attention. Oh, she noticed it, but it was secondary to the gorgeous boy sprawled carelessly on the huge, messy bed.
His contemptuous golden eyes swept over her once and his upper lip curled. One hand ran though his untidy golden spikes, pushing them farther into disorder. He didn't seem to care. After a moment, the disdain on his face softened into mere thoughtfulness, as though he'd judged her and found her wanting.
"What do you think you're doing?" he asked calmly.
Oh, goddess, she hadn't thought it would be like this. She didn't want to confront him, now, when her nerves were stretched tauter than a breaking string. One wrong step, one wrong word, and it would snap. What did she say?
And the worst part was, he knew her dilemma.
He stretched languidly on the deep green cover. The sheets were *satin,* of all things. Satin! Hysterical laughter bubbled inside her. Dear goddess, what did she *say* to him?
"What's the matter, Tierney? Can't spit it out?"
From the way he was laughing at her, she knew he meant something else by that comment. She clung to the anger flaring inside of her, because it was easier than concentrating on those raw nerves scraping against each other, easier than ignoring his callousness.
"Does it matter?" she snapped. "I'm here."
He sat up suddenly, his messy, spiky hair stabbing into the shadows. "It does matter, my half-breed scum. I'd like to know why you're here, because the sooner I know, the faster I can get rid of you. I have to protect my eyesight, you know."
"If you're not careful, that won't be an issue."
He clapped a hand to his chest dramatically, mock worry flashing over his features. "Oh, a threat!" Then his eyes lost the mockery, hardening instead to biting gold. His hand slipped to rest on the bedspread. "Please forgive me if I don't cower in fear."
She glared. "I don't expect you to cower. I expect you to beg." The words slipped out before she could stop them. She clamped a hand over her mouth, eyes widening in horror.
"Don't make promises you can't keep," he answered with a laugh. He laid back against the dark, shiny pillows. "There are very few things I beg for, and you're certainly not one of them."
It took a moment to get her breathing under control, and another to suppress the frustrated scream rising in her throat. "Are you always such an asshole?"
The corner of his mouth curled slowly into a self-satisfied grin. He shrugged. "If that's what you want to call it."
"I don't want you," he answered simply.
An unbecoming flush rose on her round cheeks. "You weren't given a choice." She clamped down on the hurt swelling through her body, refusing to give into it. This was a battle and Dare aimed for the heart, but she'd gotten good at dodging bullets.
Insults were like drugs. After so many of them, you built up an iron-clad tolerance.
"To be stuck in your pathetic, half-breed mind?" he asked mildly. "No, I wasn't. But that doesn't mean I have to stay with you."
She stepped forward without realizing it. "Do you have a problem because I'm a half-breed or you do have a problem because I'm not beautiful? I'm really curious."
"No problem with half-breeds," he assured her. "Only with you." He yawned, staring hard at her. "Do you always invade people's dreams like this?"
She ignored his question. "So you hate me because I'm not beautiful. What if that changed?"
He shook his head. "Answer my question first. Then I might indulge yours."
"No, you don't usually invade people's dreams? Or no, you're not going to answer me?" He shifted on the bed to get more comfortable, the covers bunching beneath him.
"No, I don't usually invade people's dreams," she snapped. "I repeat: if I was beautiful, would it change anything?"
He was silent for a moment, tugging at the edge of his shirt. "It might," he said finally, "but I don't work well with hypotheticals. Why do you ask?"
She seriously debated whether she should answer him. What was she supposed to tell him? /Oh, I just need a little blood so I can do a spell. Would you mind donating a few pints?/ That request would go over exquisitely well. Maybe she should break him in by asking for an arm or a leg first, just to soften the blow.
Coming straight out and telling him wasn't going to work. That he was trapped in a dream worked in her favor, but still... she didn't know how much of this he would remember in the morning. Clarity had not been her ancestress' strong point.
Wandering idly to his desk, prolonging the silence, she examined the sketchbook laying haphazardly on the smooth gray surface. "You sketch?"
"It's something I enjoy," he admitted warily, his body tensing as he watched her finger the pages, as though he was afraid she might flip one over. "Much as you seem to enjoy evading questions."
She made an indistinct noise at the back of her throat and opened the book so that both covers laid flat. Easier to turn the pages that way. Her fingers toyed with the first, absorbing as many details as she could. The stark, flowing lines stretched cleanly across the page, shadows hinting at deeper mysteries.
He was across the room before she could blink, slamming the book shut furiously. His hand clamped over her wrist and he swung her around to face him. "Why are you here?"
It was an obvious attempt to draw her attention away. One that worked. "You're hurting me!" she shrieked.
His grip only tightened, while his other hand moved to tangle in her wild curls. With a sharp yank, he jerked her head back, exposing her throat. If he'd been a vampire, if this had been something other than a dream, she might have been worried.
It isn't real. He isn't really trying to break your hand or pull your hair out at the roots. You're both just dreaming it, so it *can't* hurt. But sometimes dreams seemed more realistic than reality, and she couldn't get beyond the pain shooting through her scalp. It burned like fire, shooting to the screaming ends of her nerves. A sob rose involuntarily in her throat.
"Get out of my dream," he said, each word whipping like stinging shards of ice during a hailstorm, "and stay away from me, or this will seem like *nothing* compared to what I do to you."
Scowling, he thrust her away from him. Her hip slammed roughly against the metal edge of the desk before she caught her balance, her shoulder jamming into the desk lamp. The pain spun fierce and jagged. A heavy crimson fog swam in front of her eyes. And for a moment, she wasn't sure whether anger or pain clouded her vision.
Almost without realizing what she was doing, she whipped her body around in a swift roundhouse kick, satisfaction shooting through her when she felt it connect. It may only be a dream, but he'd already proven they could hurt each other.
Finally those Tae Kwon Do lessons would pay off.
The red faded out of her vision, though the edges remained a hazy scarlet, and she could see him clutching at his eye, the side of his face already swelling beautifully.
She probably shouldn't be so smug that she'd finally been the one to hurt him, instead of the other way around.
"Bitch!" He hurled the word scathingly.
The last traces of her anger dissipated. "Then Fate wasn't so wrong in throwing us together after all," she said, her voice hollow. Silence hung between them, eyes wary and emotions strained.
He finally looked away. "Just go."
"I'd be only too happy to." Flat voice, flat eyes, and deflated hopes. Oh, she'd be more than happy to leave, but she needed just a few drops of blood first. Why she had to get them in a dream never occurred to her. "But I can't."
Only a moment of hopeless hesitation. "I don't know how."
He was close to her suddenly, so close, and she could smell the spicy scent of his skin. A dream, maybe, but it seemed so real.
"Maybe you should figure it out." The cold lashing through his voice would have given her hypothermia if it had been a temperature.
A disgusted sound rose in her throat and she shoved him away from her, putting her whole weight behind the push because she knew that was the only way she would get him to move. He stumbled back, his hand slicing over the sharp angle of the lamp. She stared dumbly at the blood welling from his hand.
Oh, goddess, this was nearly too perfect.
What are you waiting for?, some deep, hidden part of her mind hissed. Don't just stare at him. You need blood, don't you?
"I'm so sorry," she gasped, the words stumbling from her mouth unbidden. She lurched forward, uncertain, and clasped his hand between her own as if somehow she could help. For a moment, she cradled that bleeding hand gently, pressing to staunch the flow of blood.
A second later, he wrenched his hand away. "I suppose you think I deserved that," he said. She was stunned at the calmness in his voice.
Shaking her head mutely, she stepped back. "I didn't--"
Words failed her. And the most awful thing was that he stared at her, condemnation sizzling in those golden depths, just stared, but didn't say anything else. Without another word he turned away.
She watched him walk to a door on the other side of the room, watched him open it. Watched him flick on the light and disappear inside. Still he said nothing. The light around her dimmed, only that bright, artificial light registering on her shocked mind. It was so dark in the room, despite the desk lamp and the overhead light that should have bestowed the room with warmth.
Darker, and darker, and darker still, until the only light she saw wafted from that room, and even that brightness started to dim. She sank into those growing shadows. But I didn't get what I came for...
When she realized she could see again, she also realized it was scorchingly hot and she was wet. But how--? Her head throbbed and her wrist ached like a thousand stabbing knives. She couldn't *think*.
It took her a moment to gather her thoughts and remember where she was.
She knelt waist-deep in water. The transition between the dream and here was so sudden and such a shock, her mind nearly couldn't grasp what had happened. But, oh, goddess, she hadn't gotten the blood --
A frustrated sob escaped her throat and she sat back on her heels, her hands splashing dejectedly through the water. It should have ended there, with her slumped against the shallow depths. It should have finished with her disillusion and her failure.
But when her hands touched the water, sparks flew.
The water seemed to catch fire, rays of light shooting across the surface and diving into the bottom, each strand connected to those two initial balls of dreamy golden light. But --
And then she realized. When she'd cradled his cut hand between hers, a few drops had smeared against her white skin. Then, in frustration, her hands had dropped in the water, sealing the spell.
Now all she could do was watch and hope. She found her attention caught by the flickering, dancing light beneath the water's surface, its sparkling haze whirling dreams into her mind. It came closer and closer until it grew so big it was almost tangible, almost solid. She wanted to reach out to touch it...
As suddenly as it had appeared, the light faded, sucked back through time like a stream of mercury through a vortex. Her eyes followed it, through that heartbeat's breadth of air, through smoky darkness, through miniscule particles of profound and silent moonlight. Down deeper, until she could see each dying scrap of black, those fading embers still hot and burning at their core.
Almost as if someone had snapped their fingers, every last shred of light disappeared without warning, not even that blinding comet's tail her eyes had followed remaining. Just darkness, as total and encompassing as a windowless room and just as claustrophobic.
A scream rose in her throat, pleading desperately for some recognition of life, only to be quickly stifled. Maybe this was her punishment for attempting forbidden magic. Maybe she would be stuck in this endless void for eternity. Not even Dare's callousness to keep her company. Maybe she would be lost, abandoned, forgotten...
And now a scream did rip from her throat, long and shattering. But only black surrounded her and nothing moved in this eerie and unnatural stillness. The dark flowed endless in her stunted vision. Swarthy glimpses of nothing and now she was sobbing, unaware of what she was doing, too cut off from reality. Nothing beneath her feet and nothing around her.
Like a switch had been thrown, a star snapped to life in from of her. Her breathing was unsteady, labored, trying to tug itself under control. The star shimmered in front of her, millions of miles away in that depthless black. And it seemed to be moving.
Blinking away her confusion, she watched as that star was joined by another, then another, until thousands upon thousands littered the sky. They spun around her, creating a whirlpool of light. Then she realized that she was the one spinning, not the stars, but she couldn't stop herself, couldn't remain still.
With a sickening lurch, they stopped. For one terrifying instant, those stars were fixed in their places in the sky. Then one by one, they started to disappear, until only four remained in the sky. The first, highest star suddenly dropped, falling, falling -- or maybe she was falling, but didn't know the difference -- sinking into that swarthy black sea. She tried not to look at it, instead focusing on the three stars remaining in their places, but like a magnet to metal, she couldn't keep her eyes away. Casting her eyes on the streaking white light of that falling star, she didn't see the blackness sweeping around her nor she did see the three stars slip from her view.
All she saw was rushing blackness, cloaking her from all sides. All she smelled was the cloying scent of the herbs she’d strewn into the water, that acrid sent of burnt hair. All she heard was the streaming wind as it gushed by her. All she tasted was the salty air whose odor was masked by those herbs. And all she felt was that dreaded sense of nothingness, as if nothing lay beneath her. As if those stars were merely an illusion she dreamt for comfort.
And those stars watched her fall.