Long, long ago, it was said, there lived a benevolent dragon in a world of dreams and song.
And so, too, lived a princess in a land ravaged by war. In the ruins of her own kingdom, she wandered, swept into obscurity by the mists of time, until at last she came upon an ocean. Struck by its serenity, even when all else seemed lost, the princess found her voice. And she sang, she sang the most beautifully that she'd ever sung. She sang a song of strength, and creation, and beauty.
The dragon heard this song, and gave it life. He plucked it from her throat, like a thread from a piece of cloth, long and bright red. But he had not the same power as a dragon in the world of the living-- he could only use the thread of her song in the world of dreams, where he reigned king... and so, to give her hope, he connected her dreams to those of a handsome king from a faraway realm, one who would love her with all of his heart. Her soulmate.
On the night of the full moon, she dreamed of the king leading his soldiers into battle, dreamed that he protected her from foes, and had bandaged his wounds in turn. This gave her the strength to wander for a month more, searching for the man in her dreams. When she fell into despair again, the gentle dragon plucked the string once more, and on the next full moon, she dreamed of the king in his court, of moonlit walks beneath the trees in full bloom, and of dancing on through the night.
Desperate to meet the one in her dreams, she wandered yet a month more, wearing holes in her shoes, oft unable to find food. At last, on the night of the full moon, she collapsed in the streets of a foreign city, starving, exhausted, convinced that the one in her dreams was just that-- a mere dream. But, that night, she dreamed of horses, and of whispering directions in the king's ear, directions she herself hardly knew the meaning of.
When she woke up the next morning, it was to the sound of hoofbeats stopping from a lengthy ride. The king lifted her from the dirt, offered her food and drink... and when he saw her face, newly washed, he asked if he knew her from a dream.
The dragon, upon seeing their joy, as so moved that he decided all people should share in it. And so now, when we and our soulmates have shared the notes of a song... so, too, do we share in their dreams on the night of every full moon thereafter.
Some child might ask, Why the full moon?
And some elders might reply that it is because it's when the realm of dreams is at its strongest. Some say that it is to honor the princess, and her struggle to find the king.
But most, I think, would say that it's because the moon provides just enough light for the dragon to pluck at all those strings of song without missing even one.
On his own behalf, however, Celadon West knew that legend to be wrong.
There had been studies done on the subject of these soulmate-dreams, papers published. Scientifically vigorous. Globally tested. His MirrorPad history was rife with those pages, each one downloaded in a vain attempt to prove his theories wrong. He'd run his own study right there at Ever After High, turning up much the same results.
It was not unheard of for someone to have felt the note of a song, to have begun to Dream even as early as four or five years old. Fay Fairer and Airmé Arc-en-ciel had. It was typical, indeed, for a child to have begun their dreams near the age of ten or eleven-- even his cousin Garen, whose magic-prohibiting curse had sapped him of all else, had his first Dream around that age.
It was rare and abnormal if someone did not dream until they were in their teens... but West's own roommate Ryusei had not dreamed of Panna Twardowska until the first full-moon after she had set her fingers upon a computer-keyboard, that day she came to Ever After from the moon itself. Anyone who looked upon them together could tell that they loved as dearly as any other soul-bonded pair.
West's throat tightened that full-moon night, a single verdant finger trailing down the pages of results. There stood the matter at the very heart of it.
At age fifteen, a mere five percent of the population would still be waiting on their soulmate. Age sixteen, only three in every hundred people waited yet. Age seventeen? One percent still waited.
The dormitory clocks chimed twelve, marking the new day, February seventeenth... and West's finger slid down to that very last category on that chart.
Age eighteen-- 0.1 percent.
The one in every thousand people who were unlikely to ever dream of their soulmate. That selfsame category that West now found himself belonging to.
He had never thought that his eighteenth birthday would be so bitter an experience.
There had been records of late bloomers, West knew-- he had done the research. All immortals. All with true loves generations younger than they. And as to that 0.1 percent of the population, the vast majority belonged to destinies much like West's own much-hated fate as the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz. The rest of them were outright cursed.
He wondered if there was any point in going to sleep at all on this lonesome night, when he knew he did not even have a chance at the safe reprieve of a soulmate's Dream.
Perhaps, the thought occurred to him, there was a chance still yet, that his soulmate had somehow waited for the eighteenth anniversary of his birth before hearing that song which bound together two souls. It seemed like a romantic thought... the sort of narrative that one might expect out of a fairytale. In the realm of Ever After, fairytales came true all the time.
But wicked witches did not get fairytales, and West was not a romantic.
He slipped from his dormitory all in silence, careful not to wake Ryusei from what was certainly a Dream he shared with Panna. The halls were nigh abandoned at this hour, thought West, and reveled in that bittersweet solitude: it seemed that all the school except for him had fallen into silent dream.
Even students who were rumored to be nocturnal-- the elusive cat-burglar Percy Boots, the stealthy midnight-graffiti artist River Loxias, the transfer students from the very moon itself-- even they slept on this most important of nights, not wishing to forego the sweetest sanctity of these dreams.
There was one benefit to the matter, at least. Security on this night was at a monthly low, as there was nobody who would volunteer for hallway patrol. It was laughably easy for West to break into the Science and Sorcery classroom. It was even easier to sneak an entire pouchful of pixie dust into his shirtpocket.
He was just musing over whether his next potions experiment would be needing monkshood as well when suddenly, there came a thumping noise. West whirled around on his heel, his fingers flicking a dusting of sulfur powder from his sleeves as he lit his hands with glowing, red-orange celestinium.
"Zeus and Hades," the second intruder swore, shielding his eyes from the light and holding onto a bruised shin. "Can you maybe turn that shit down?"
"Apologies," West answered with a curt politeness, and dimmed the celestinium in his palms. "You startled me."
There were wings, for a moment, and feathers overtook West's vision. The man who wore them seemed so unbearably handsome that the witch could do little more than avert his vision, lest he stare. It was obvious that the stranger hadn't planned on running into anyone, that night-- sweatpants, no shirt, only the basic level of weaponry in case the school came under attack by a monster or some other such common dealing.
(Then again, West supposed-- even ghouls fell in love, and no monster would take well to being awakened on this night, either.)
"Right back at you, sweetheart," the stranger hissed, at last letting go of his shin. "You don't exactly run into people around school at this time of night."
Nobody in their right mind is awake right now, he might as well have said. Unspoken was the implication: nobody wants to miss their soulmate's dreaming.
"No," West answered back, scarcely above a whisper. "You don't. It makes me wonder... what someone like you might be doing awake."
The stranger snorted, "Maybe I'm the heir to the destiny of the dragon who plucks the soul-song. If you go back to bed, maybe I'll spin something a little sweeter for you tonight, if you catch my drift."
"An admirable attempt," West pursed his lips. "But Lon Qi, the son of the Moonbeam Dragon, graduated six years ago. And... for what it's worth... I don't Dream on full moons at all, so the sweetness of my night hardly matters."
"The sweetness of a night always matters," the stranger licked his lower lip suggestively, drawing in closely, perhaps too close for comfort. "And maybe I've been sent to make your waking world a little sweeter."
West's cheeks felt as if they would burn-- and it had nothing to do with the celestinium. He cleared his throat and tried again, "I would like to know what you're doing awake, that is all... perhaps I can help, if you so choose it."
"Asking about a guy's soulmate status already," a smirk played across a handsome Cupid's-bow lip. "You move fast."
"That was... unintentional," West mumbled, embarrassed. "I should apologize."
"Why?" a perfectly-manicured finger flicked up the end of West's hat. "It's not something I'm scared of sharing. I was eight when the Dreams first appeared. Pretty little girl named Veronica."
"Oh," West answered, turning his face away. He was unsure what to say to that, and even less sure that the emotion bubbling within his chest was disappointment.
"Then, the full moon afterwards, there was Caspia," the cherub recited, counting upwards on his fingers. "And then David, and then Cleo, and then William."
West frowned, his brow creasing in a furrow. "There's never been a record of anything like that before."
"Yeah, well, as far as I know, I'm the only one who has a different soulmate every month. Or maybe every night. Who knows?" he winked in West's direction. "Could even be you tomorrow, babe. You sure you don't want to go for a ride?"
To his credit, West stolidly ignored that in favor of posing a more reasonable query: "That still doesn't explain why you're awake tonight. If I'm not presuming too much, this sort of soulmate-hopping seems like something you enjoy."
"Maybe I'm not one for the romance of it all," he gave a wicked grin. "There's a reason why they call me the special Cupid, after all."
"Well then, Cupid," West halted, as if trying to discern if that was his real name. "Logically speaking, you couldn't have set out expecting to find anyone at this hour of the night. And if you were looking for a more literal sweetener, perhaps the Cooking Class-ic room would have been better. Did you even attempt sleep-- perchance, to dream?"
"Ay, there's the rub," Cupid brushed back his hair. "Or lack thereof, as it might stand. If you have to know... I fell into my roommate's dream tonight. His girlfriend figured out what happened and came in screaming. Percy wasn't exactly over the moon about it, either, but what can I say? I can't help whose dream I end up in."
West couldn't help but release a snort of a laugh at that. "So you left."
"Of course I did," the Cupid batted his eyelashes and reclined dramatically over the lab bench. "For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come? Nothing as nice as the one I'm in now."
"A mandrake dissection was performed on that table less than twelve hours ago," West deadpanned. "I hear that mandrake roots spill large amounts of half-digested compost when they're cut open."
A disgusted expression crossed that handsome face as he hurriedly sat up. "You couldn't have warned me about that?"
"Excuse me for being unable to predict that you were planning to lie down on that table," West answered dryly, flicking the edge of his wide-brimmed hat down to hide his grin. "It's clean, by the way. Professor Rumplestiltskin made my class clean up after it."
"Ugh," Cupid groaned, pushing himself off the table entirely. "Too late, I can't unsee it. I'm gonna get out of here."
West watched as the cherub hastened to the supply shelf nearby, the very same which West himself had been raiding mere minutes before.
"I took all of the leftover pixie dust, by the way," West mentioned helpfully.
"Dammit," he scowled, his wing tips flicking out in irritation. He turned and held out his hand, "Give it to me."
"I think the rules are first come, first serve, when the matter at hand is borrowing leftover chemythsty supplies," West replied shortly, arching an eyebrow. "What do you need it for?"
"Transdimensional spirit calling," the Cupid crossed his arms. "Spell calls for two ounces of pixie dust."
West chuckled lightly into his sleeve. "I'm sorry, but that's stupid."
"Not you," West assured. He shook his head, "It's just... stupid to waste two ounces of pixie dust on calling a spirit when you could summon one for half that mass in powdered Moon Stone."
"Summoning a spirit..." the corner of his mouth twitched upwards. "I'm listening."
"It has a lot to do with the phases of the moon. Of course, it's stronger when the moon is somewhere in-between the gibbous phases," West pulled a leaf of paper from one of the many desks. He scrawled out a spell diagram, "Use the lunar diametric on your spell-circle and celestial runes along that line, instead of your standard infernal. Your focus is going to want to be a mirror of some kind..."
"... angled so that the whole moon's reflected from all sides," the cherub finished with a smirk, snatching the paper away. "You'd just need something to offer up in exchange for the summon..."
"There are plenty of extra mandrakes," West replied stoically. "Those, perhaps, might work."
"Yeah, those things you said were spilling compost all over the place half a day ago?"
"Nothing so vile on the earth doth live but to the earth some good doth give," West quoted, lifting an eyebrow and holding up a very cleanly bagged, bisected mandrake.
"From Romeo and Juliet?" the Cupid smirked, but took the decisively-clean bag, regardless. "Didn't strike me as a romantic, babe."
"I'm not... it's an old witches' proverb," West pressed his lips together in a bitter smile. He added pointedly, "You didn't strike me as a romantic, either."
"Oh, I have my moments," a shocking-blue eye winked at him. "I'm named after the damn play, too. Be a crying shame if I didn't remember at least part of it."
"You don't look like much of a Juliet to me," West remarked, careful to avert his eyes from that all-too-charming gaze.
A light snort, "I'm not. I'm Romeo. Romeo V. Cupid."
"West," the mage offered his hand to shake. "Er... Celadon West."
Romeo smirked, taking the verdant hand within his own-- but, in lieu of shaking it, he pressed a kiss to the back. "Charmed."
"Cursed," West corrected with a self-depreciating snort, flushing a furious dark green as he pulled his hand away. "Even when it's the same charm... as long as a witch is casting it, it's called a curse."
"'Cursed' doesn't really have the same mouthfeel, babe," Romeo smoothly sidled in, leaning against the shelf. "And speaking of curses... what was it again you needed that Pixie Dust for?"
West gave pause at that. He touched his jacket pocket lightly. "An experimental potion. One for lucid dreaming... I thought that if I couldn't dream of a soulmate, then I would dream of something else. Something of my own choosing."
Romeo's lip, a Cupid's-bow, pressed down thinly. "I... might be interested in something like that. Something that I could use to... give me a choice in who I'm taking as a soulmate for the night. Just so I can Dream about someone hot, at least... you understand?"
"Yes," West replied softly, shaking his head. The words settled in his throat for a long time, but when he at last spoke: "I completely understand."
Their next conversation began something like this:
"How did the summoning go?"
"What?" A pause. A moment, as if he'd been trying to place the verdant stranger, so very different in the daylight. "Oh. Yeah. Moon Stone worked like a charm, babe... or a curse, depending on who's casting."
There was a beat of silence, and then: "You finished your potion?"
"Looking forward to lucid dreaming, are you?" West lowered his hat so as to cover his slight smile. "Almost. It's still too experimental for testing... you'll have to be patient a little while longer."
Romeo's reply was a dry snort. "I'm not exactly a patient guy."
"That's right... I'd forgotten you were named after a character who poisoned himself because he couldn't wait a few minutes."
"Oft when men are at the point of death, they have been merry," a wicked grin. Almost cloyingly sweet, "Come on. For me, babe?"
"I assure you, I am a true apothecary," West turned away, uncertain how to handle the flutter somewhere in his chest. "I wouldn't be able to guarantee anyone waking from the potion at this stage in its production... else it would be yours. To die, to sleep... there's a fine line between those two."
"Sleep no more! The innocent sleep, sleep that knits the unravelled sleeve of care," Romeo splayed an arm dramatically over his forehead. "The death of each day’s life."
West halted, unsure. "Logically speaking, you don't have much of a reason to memorize Macbeth."
"Is that where it's from?" Romeo gave a dark smirk, still holding onto his dramatic pose. "No wonder it freaks people out when I say it."
"Yes... I can see why they would be worried," a slight frown. "Given your particular destiny."
"Been doing research on me?" he batted his eyelashes. "I'm flattered."
"I like to know who's going to be testing my potions," West flushed at that, for once grateful that his verdigris did not display the very red of his blood, his burning cheeks. "I... should go. Back to brewing, I mean."
"I'll be the first to know when it's done?" an entirely too-charming smile.
West swallowed. "Yes. Of course."
The first trial potion was ready on the twenty-sixth of February, over two weeks off from the next full moon.
West bottled a pair of vials meticulously, measuring to the drop lest excessive drowsiness ensue from overdose... but, too, lest efficacy fail for being unable to manage a sufficient enough dosage in the bloodstream. His detailed brewing process had given him just enough for two doses, exactly. It was, in his eyes, a work of scientific art.
"As a matter of practicality," began West's roommate, turning away from his own tinkering for a moment. "Exactly how illegal is this potion?"
"On the level of school rules, I'd say that it's tier-two contraband. Unauthorized sleeping potions rule. On the national level, I imagine it's worth at least the destruction of my notes and a lifetime of FBI scrutiny, because of the dream-tampering," West mentioned offhandedly. "How about yours?"
"By virtue of being an unauthorized drone with camera functions, it's tier-three at school, unless Headmaster Grimm figures out what I'm going to do with it. In that case, tampering with the heart of the MirrorNet is a tier-one violation," Ryusei reported, returning to the work on his side of the room. "On the national level, it might be worth banishment to the moon. According to Panna, the MirrorNet signals up there are terrible."
"What evidence needs to be erased?" West queried back professionally. "I've already taken care of my... unusual ingredients."
"School security camera footage, mostly. I'll take care of it. Also, try not to touch shelf 15-C," Ryusei answered coolly. "The fake bookshelf illusion is excellent, by the way. I almost didn't realize it was a disguise until I took a reference manual off that display. The pages feel too new to be realistic."
"Headmaster Grimm isn't half as observant as you are," West shrugged, at last corking the pair of vials. "Still, if you believe it needs further work, I'll see what I can do about it."
"I would appreciate it if you did," Ryusei replied evenly. "Should I expect you back tonight?"
"No sooner than three," West tucked the vials carefully into foam-lined cases, pocketed them. "No later than five. If I'm not back by then, something has gone horribly wrong and I need you to bring the antidotes marked out on shelf 7-B. The cloaking spell you wanted is on shelf 15-A."
"Understood," Ryusei nodded, standing up from his workstation to squint at what seemed to be a book. He pulled it out, and in his hands, it instantly became a varnish-bottle filled with the spell in question. "We will need more shelves soon."
"Are you free to add more this weekend? I think there may still be space in my closet."
"Negatory," Ryusei's hands stilled over his device for a moment. "Panna and I made plans to get coffee and hack the school database."
West paused. He answered, if a bit stiltedly, "Right."
"Social protocol states that I ought to invite you to join," Ryusei offered, his face belying no emotion.
"It's all right. I'm not really a hacking kind of guy... I've got to put the finishing touches on this potion soon, anyways," West answered, and carefully opened the door. "Just... enjoy your MirrorNet excursion tonight. Don't get caught."
"Same to you," Ryusei answered, and turned back to his own work.
West slipped through the halls, bearing over his shoulders a makeshift Cloak of Shadows-- never one to purchase that which he could reasonably shod together himself, even if it had been a challenge in cloth enchantments. His knuckles rapped twice against the dormitory-room shared by Romeo V. Cupid and Percy Boots.
Any other student would have called it walking into a lion's den. West called it keeping promises.
"What?" Romeo seemed faintly disgruntled, opening the door. "... oh. It's just you."
"Were you expecting someone else?" West replied, pushing down the hood of his cloak.
"Nah. I had a little rendezvous this afternoon," Romeo wrinkled his nose in disgust. "I forgot what she was like. Doesn't even play by my rules when we're on my home turf. It's enough to put a damper on anyone."
"My condolences," West averted his gaze to the carpet, looking anywhere except Romeo's mostly-ungarbed form. "Should I leave?"
"Why?" Romeo lifted an eyebrow. He gave a salacious grin, "I always welcome a little comfort after a bad lay... especially if it's so gracious as to show up on my front door. While my roommate's out, even."
West cautiously stepped in and shut the door behind him. He reached into his pocket and held up the box with his vials, "I finished these prototypes. I hope that was the sort of comfort you were looking for."
"Not exactly the kind of sleeping together I'm used to," Romeo threw himself on a reclining chaise. "But... I could settle for being able to choose my dreams for the night."
"In the interest of knowledge... perhaps, for your personal safety while using this potion," West began. "I think it would be wise to ask you a few questions about your dreams, in particular. Your particular situation has never been seen before-- it may merit further study."
"You know everything you need to know," Romeo scoffed. "I steal peoples' soulmate-dreams on the night of the full moon. I get to kick out their real soulmate, and then, they're mine for the night. New lover every day... just the way I like it, until the Dreams shuffle me into the line of someone I can't stand. Never really been more than four years older or younger than me, either, so at least I don't get stuck babysitting some kid for the night."
West thought upon those words for a moment. He frowned, "You said 'for the night.' Not 'for the month,' like a normal lunar cycle."
"Night, month... same difference," he replied, but a minute tension in his jaw seemed to betray his discomfort.
"You had a repeated encounter earlier this afternoon... one which you did not enjoy," West murmured, the pieces clicking together in his mind. "One which you knew you wouldn't enjoy."
"I never said I didn't enjoy it," Romeo crossed his arms. "She might be a total bitch, but she's hot."
"With a person you dislike, then," West offered reasonably. He pressed his lips together for a moment. "... it's not just the full moon for you, is it? You dream of a different person every night."
"And I sleep with them the next day," Romeo as good as admitted. He batted his eyelashes coquettishly, "Can you blame me, though? You never get bored, when there's a different body every night... and soulmate sex is fucking fantastic. You'd be addicted to it, too, if you knew what it was like."
"I will never," West's jaw tightened, struggling not to show how deeply it bothered him. "I will never know what it's like."
"You can go for an imitation, if you like," Romeo flicked his tongue out in a crude suggestion.
"I... appreciate the offer, but somehow, I doubt that it's the same," West seemed to hesitate for a moment. "You... can choose whether or not you want to sleep with the, er, person you dream of... right? And, um, vice-versa?"
"Worried about me, sweetheart?" Romeo smirked. "Maybe it doesn't look like it, but I can use self-restraint, when the mood strikes me... and an annoying amount of my soulmates du jour have this weird sense of 'loyalty to their soulmates,' or whatever. I'm not cursed to screw or die, if that's what you're asking."
"Just... academically," West lowered his hat in an attempt to conceal his embarrassment. "In case the potion goes horribly wrong... I didn't want to be responsible for any interactions you'd really hate."
"Can't be worse than anything the Dreams have come up with," Romeo held out his hand. "Just give me the potion, babe."
"Very well," West handed him the vial and claimed the second one for himself. "Do you mind if I crash here for a few hours?"
"Take the floor," Romeo commanded haughtily, though there were at least half a dozen other fainting-couches, and a bed besides.
Not particularly keen on irritating his host, West silently spread his cloak over a section of the floor that seemed comparatively clean. He held up his vial, then.
"A toast," he offered. "To choosing dreams."
"A toast," Romeo countered. "To unusual dreamers."
And with a swallow of that glittering-blue sludge, both of them fell into slumber.
When West awoke, it was not to the potion wearing away, as he had planned, but rather to the sensation of a foot digging into his side. Romeo was significantly heavier than he, thought West hazily, so of course the potion would have worn off sooner for him.
"What time is it?" he sat up, slow, careful to avoid jostling the foot which had been kicking him.
"Four-thirty," Romeo's scowl was audible. "Your potion didn't work."
"It worked fine for me," West licked his lips, holding back a cringe at the taste. "Aside from the brief hiccup near the end where I woke too soon, though that can be explained away by external stimuli."
"I tried to dream of my sister... the one person I wouldn't mind being platonic soulmates with," Romeo spat into a handkerchief, wiping his tongue vigorously.
"Which sister?" West straightened his hat, relieved that it had not fallen off while he was asleep. "The one who's cursed so that her soulmate can't tell who she is, or the one who's cursed so that her soulmate is already soulmates with someone else?"
"I see the Cupid family reputation precedes us," Romeo snorted sardonically.
"Your family line has a solid record of publicly-released... and often story-relevant anomalies," West admitted. "I might have done a little research for this potion in particular."
"It was Chariclo, if you've got to know," Romeo crossed his arms. "The one who has to dream about her soulmate falling in love with someone else every full moon. It's broken her heart every night since she started to Dream. Getting her platonic is a kindness."
"And... who did you dream of, instead?" West pressed his lips into a frown.
"I'm not at liberty to name names," Romeo glanced off to the side, perhaps over-dramatizing his displeasure with aggrieved sighs. "But I know enough about the situation to say that I dreamed about Chariclo's soulmate. She'll never forgive me if I sleep with him. Can't stand the guy, either... I would've even preferred my afternoon rendezvous again."
"One degree of separation," West nibbled at his lower lip for a moment, deep in thought. "One degree. I can work with that."
"You'd better make it work, babe," Romeo snorted derisively, nudging him none-too-gently. "It's better than knowing nothing at all... but you could make it better."
"Of course. You'll be the first to know when I've made the appropriate revisions," West assured, beginning to pick himself off the floor. "I suppose I'll see you then?"
Romeo kicked him again, though more playfully this time. "Get out of here."
"Right," answered West, immediately standing and drawing his cloak around himself once more. "People will start waking up soon. I'll report back to you when I'm finished making modifications, then."
"I appreciate it," a smirk and a saccharine voice. "Sweetheart."
West did not speak to him again until it was late in the afternoon on the seventeenth of March-- the day before the next full moon's rising.
It was, perhaps, more accurate to say that West did not speak to Romeo at all... but merely brushed past him in the halls, pressing into his palm a foam-lined box and a single note which read: I fixed it. -CW
Romeo huffed, the lack of attention beginning to get on his nerves. He rounded on his heel, barely even bothering to dismiss the crowd he'd been walking with, the halls nearly abandoned on that Friday afternoon.
"Hey, sweetheart," and suddenly an arm swung over West's shoulder. Romeo's voice hung too-sweetly in his ears. "What? Not even going to say hi to me?"
West opened his mouth, but when no words came out, he only shut it again.
(He made no move to shrug off the arm around his shoulder.)
"Nothing? So cold, babe," Romeo feigned an offended expression. "And after you asked me so many probing questions about my dreams. I should sue for compromise of soulmate status. I have a lawyer who specializes in the matter... though I'm usually the defendant."
Silence. Awkward, unnerving silence.
It was nearly a half-minute before West's voice came at last, low and soft: "Why are you talking to me?"
"Excuse me?" Romeo pressed a hand over his heart in mock horror. He pretended to swoon, "Can it be that you've forgotten me, babe? You're breaking my heart, here."
"I haven't forgotten," answered West, at last ducking under the arm which had held him entrapped. "I should go. Excuse me."
A scowl crossed Romeo's face, and he ran out of patience with his pretenses, pinning West quite forcefully to the nearest wall. The locker gave a metallic clang at the impact.
His eyes narrowed. His voice grew grim, "That kind of answer isn't gonna cut it, sweetheart."
West scrabbled at the wrists on either side of his shoulders, "What are you doing?"
"If you won't give me an answer, I've got all afternoon to wait," he leaned in close, his eyes narrowed. "I could end you with one move like this."
West's lips pursed, and his fingers at last found purchase around each wrist. "I could end you with less than that."
And then, there was Hellfyre-- celestinium pulled from the air through sulfuric powder, climbing up Romeo's arms, winding around his thorned chains. The scratches that regularly dotted his arms seemed to burn, and with a startled movement not unlike that of someone who had touched a still-hot stove, he backed off.
"Zeus and Hades," he cursed, hissing even after the sensation had faded. Red burn-marks in the shape of fingers lingered upon his wrist, slowly on the mend as his cherubic immunity began to heal them over. "What the hell was that for?"
"Where I'm from, a threat warrants a threat," West replied evenly, lowering his hat over his eyes even further.
"I don't like your attitude today, babe," Romeo sneered. "You've been ignoring me."
"You got what you wanted from me," West replied harshly. "Your concerns should be resolved. I'm not useful to you anymore. Logically speaking, I should be the one to do the asking-- why aren't you ignoring me?"
"That sounds like you want me to ignore you," Romeo crossed his arms, and this time, the offense was not feigned.
West sighed, and seemed to visibly deflate. "Maybe I do."
"Maybe?" an eyebrow raised.
"Why not? The very Dreams themselves seem to have forgotten altogether that I exist," West chuckled bitterly. "Maybe you can resolve your issues with little more than a lucid dreaming potion... but no matter how much I control I have over my dreams, I can never simply summon up a soulmate. No matter how many summoning-circles I draw... no matter how much Moon Stone I use."
A spark lit up in Romeo's eyes at that familiar expression, one which he had seen many times in his life. A smirk crept onto his face. "You're jealous."
"I might be," West admitted. "You can have your pick of any Dreamer in the world. With the potion, you could even choose the same one every night, and nobody could contest you on it."
"And here I thought you knew me better than that," Romeo grinned roguishly.
"It was a theoretical scenario," West snorted, crossing his arms. "You would never settle for just one."
"Damn straight." Then, perhaps too poignantly, "But you would."
"At this point," West admitted, "I would settle for half of one... a twelfth of one, even. Just... something that proves I can Dream at all."
"Why?" Romeo kicked back, enjoying having the upper hand. "The Dreams themselves aren't that great... unless I swayed you on the thought of soulmate sex."
"There's this saying, in Oz," West glanced off in the distance, utterly resigned. "They say that wicked witches don't get soulmates... because we don't have souls."
"What, you mean like how the Tin Girl doesn't have a heart?" Romeo's words came forth dubiously. "Because she's got a heart. I've personally shot it before."
"It's a little more complicated than fairytale prejudice," West shifted uncomfortably. "Not having a soul means nobody could have ever loved you. That you're irredeemably evil, and an unnatural abomination, and you deserve to die for your story. I thought, maybe... that I could offer evidence to the contrary. Maybe I could prove that dying for destiny is wrong."
"Sorry, babe, but that's stupid."
"Excuse me?" West furrowed his brow, seeming perplexed.
"That's stupid," Romeo reiterated, "And you're stupid if you believe that. If you're meant to die for destiny, then you're meant to die for destiny. It doesn't have jack to do with whether you've got a soulmate or a soul or not. Half the Swan Lake kids Dream already... but it's not gonna stop any of them from dying, if and when they're scheduled to die."
West swallowed, "You're right, of course. That's what makes the most sense from a logical standpoint. I guess I thought... it would just be nice to know."
"Whether you have a soul?"
"Whether I deserve to die," and those words came, so very empty and vulnerable, that it was as good as a surrender.
"Well," Romeo's lip twitched upwards. "You're sure as hell not irredeemably evil, or any of that other shit you said."
"How do you know that?" West pressed desperately.
"You said it yourself," Romeo shrugged, turning as if to walk away now that he was certain he'd won back West's attentions. "That potion's completely useless to you... and here I am, with a working version of it. That doesn't exactly scream evil, sweetheart."
"Maybe I thought it was an interesting challenge, scientifically speaking," West mumbled, casting his eyes anywhere except Romeo's back.
"Maybe," Romeo grinned wickedly, at last striding towards the main hallways. "But something tells me you had something else in mind. Catch you later, sweetheart."
And with a flick of his wings on that temperate March day, he departed West's company, leaving the witch alone, still leaning against the locker to which Romeo had pinned him.
It didn't take a genius to figure out what he'd be thinking about, with or without the aura-vision of the cherubs.
It was Romeo who approached him first that next morning, with words so agonizingly sweet that West's heart hurt to hear them--
"I dreamt a Dream tonight."
West's lungs ached with words he couldn't bring himself to say. He tried to manage a few.
"And so did I."
Romeo's smirk was triumphant. "Well, what was yours?"
He was damn well aware of what West had Dreamed, and both of them knew that. He knew, because he had been there. It had been the sweetest night of sleep West had ever attained, that full-moon night, the very same safest reprieve they had promised in the tales of yore, with hands clasped over Moon Stone and mandrakes as they'd chanted well into the night.
He could only grasp at motives or thoughts or even questions, now-- why Romeo had chosen to blaze into his dream, soulmateless, with lucid intent. To mock him? To steal his heart? He was still trying to figure out whether he preferred this sort of stilted half-Dreaming, whether it hurt more than not dreaming at all, whether it really confirmed that he possessed a soul indeed. There was only one certainty in the entire matter.
It was not real, of course. West knew that better than anyone.
And so, when West answered, he answered thus: "I dreamed... that dreamers often lie."
O Romeo, Romeo, brave Mercutio is dead!
That gallant spirit hath aspired the clouds,
Which too untimely here did scorn the earth.
This day's black fate on more days doth depend.
This but begins the woe others must end.