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the sleepless elite

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the sleepless elite


chapter one



 I was scared of pretty girls and starting conversations

– Vance Joy, Riptide


The rickety air conditioner above the garage whirls and sputters warm air into Chase Redford's open door garage. Sweat rolls down his forehead and neck as he tries to endure the heat. It's the type of warm day that deserves to be cooled down by ice-cream and water gun fights and a trip to the ice rink. Not spent in his garage, working on motorcycles.

And if anyone asked, yes, Chase did have to do this. Work on bikes that is. Because, he's twenty-one and it is his official job. And he loves loves loves it to death. Sometimes he can't believe he's getting paid to work his dream job.

But, still, it was the middle of Summer, and he was spending it working!

Riptide by Vance Joy plays on the old radio that either plays songs from the 2010s or static. Chase finds himself bobbing along to the old thing (it's still a good song!) as he scrolls through his Instagram, butt planted on his own bike, the Red Knight. He was looking through pictures under the motorcycle hashtag when something caught his eye.

"Hm," A hum escapes his lips, he raises a dark brow and pauses then squints at the picture that caught his attention.

Surely it must be a trick of the light. He has been growing more and more exhausted since working – having a growing list of motorcycles to test out.

If he didn't have grease on his hands, he would have rubbed his eyes. So instead of blinding himself, Chase gives himself a moment before clicking on the said picture.

Low and behold, it wasn't a trick of the light. It was the real deal; the White Knight, a rare limited-edition motorcycle.

"Woah," Chase mutters under his breath, impressed, as he zooms in, eyeing the details. Under the picture, there read three sparkly emojis, no captions. The owner of the sweet ride was a person with the username no-man's-land.

One click in and Chase finds himself instantly blown away. no-man's-land's gallery was filled with one thing and one thing only, pictures of the White Knight in different angles with different beautiful sceneries in the background, not a person in sight.

An urge to reach out to this person surges through Chase. A prod in his chest to say something. Anything. Be geeky and ask if they could swap tips and tricks. But Chase holds back. He can't just go randomly messaging people he didn't know! In his mind, that would be incredibly weird. He needed a few days to mull things over at least. The least he could do was …

He hits the FOLLOW button not even three seconds later.

Chapter Text

the sleepless elite


chapter two



Oh, all my friends are turning green

– Vance Joy, Riptide


Darling Charming sits on her bed, sandwiched between her two brothers, Daring sits on her left and Dexter sits on her right. Shoulders brush against one another, feet dangle off. It's one of those moments where someone's door is left open then suddenly everyone's crammed into one bedroom.

And they're all talking about college and their futures.

"So you're really taking a year off, huh?" Dexter asks his twin, fiddling with the sleeve of his button up shirt. He's rolled and unrolled his sleeve about a dozen times so far.

"I need to find myself." Darling explains.

She doesn't know why she needs to say it so many times though. She's already convinced Mr and Mrs Charming to let her take a year off before earning a degree in something. Darling even used her position as the baby of the family to worm her way through. Now the only people who needed to let her be were her brothers. Or, more specifically, Dexter.

"But we'll be separated – again." Dexter claims. "It's bad enough my twin-sense failed me in the last year of high school, I don't want it to happen again with me being far away."

Daring sends Dexter a look. Ever After High was not as 'fun' as he thought it would be. Their final year was just a disaster.

"Aw, come on, Dex. It's just a year. I feel like it'll do me some good. I really need a breather after ..." Darling trails off, pausing. She looks up from the silver phone in her hand and turns her gaze to Daring. In less than 0.2 seconds, she'll be mentioning their ex. "... you know, her."

"Yeah, understandable. Apple did break our hearts," Daring says, adding an almost bitter chuckle.

"Dare!" Dexter exclaims and swats his older brother's arms.

"Ow! That hurt!" Daring says and attempts to reach across the bed and swat Dexter back. It semi-worked. Daring then frowns and says to Darling, "Anyway, I'm sorry I didn't 'warn' you about Apple being a heartbreaker." He rubs his arm. "Apple wasn't like that when I started dating her in Freshman year. Something just happened in Junior year and when Senior year came around, it just blew up."

Darling doesn't say anything, only shrugging and putting her head on her twin's shoulder.

Apple White was originally Daring's girlfriend before the blonde girl started having an existential crisis of some sort and drifted away from him and her friends. Apple then started dating Darling whom had moved to Ever After High. Daring never said anything when he found out his apparently now ex girlfriend was dating his baby sister, he was going through some stuff too. But then on prom night, Apple lost her chance of being prom queen and just broke down. According to what Briar and Ashlynn told Daring, Apple's been bisexual all this while. But Darling tells a different story, saying Apple has always been jumpy when it came to her sexuality; probably using Daring as a moustache and only becoming true to herself when with Darling. So was she bisexual or lesbian? Most likely, as everyone concluded, still closeted.

But, anyways, it still stung for the Charming siblings in the end because Apple was the one to break things off.

A chime interrupts the heavy air for a moment, Darling unlocks her phone out of habit. It's just a notification about someone named Chase_you_there following her Instagram. It's nothing, she locks her screen and sighs.

"Don't worry about me." Darling says to her brothers. "You two got accepted into good colleges, go and live the experience."

"Well, we can't not worry." Dexter says. "We know you're smart, Darling. You got accepted into all five of your choices –"

"And turn down all five of them too," Daring adds.

"– but," Dexter gives Daring a pointed look. "I'm scared for you. I'm scared that you won't be able to bounce back to your feet if you take this year off. Not academic-wise but motivation-wise. A whole year away from school, sounds mad."

"I won't lose motivation, I'll find it just like how I'll find myself, silly." Darling says.

"All alone?" Dexter asks, worried.

Darling rolls her blue eyes in return. She tells him, "I won't be 'all alone'. I have our friends."

"A biker gang." Daring says, still amused by the idea. He never did have the same group of friends as the twins did. He fell from hanging out with the popular crowd to hanging out with the Beauty cousins and sweetheart couple Hunter and Ashlynn.

"The sleepless elite." Darling corrects.

"I never did quite understand how Father and Mother allowed that." Daring says.

Darling only shrugs then says to Dexter, "But anyway, I'll have 2/3 of the gang while you and Raven go off to get your education. Maddie, Alistair and Bunny will keep me company, it'll be fine."

Regardless, Dexter still didn't look convinced. "What if I –"

"Don't you dare back out." Darling tells Dexter. "We can't always be together forever. Not everyone can stick with the same people for years and years. You have to grow out of your shell, Dex."

"But I'm fine with the way things are."

Darling only pats her brother's hand to calm him down. "Just be grateful. You're lucky you got into the same college as Raven. Look at Daring, he's going to be miles away from Rosabella but he's not whining about it."

"I'm not whining." Dexter says then same time Daring's face turns pink.

The blonde boys stutters, "My life doesn't revolve around Rosabella, you know? I don't need her attached to my hip or anything. I'll visit her just as much as I'll visit you two."

"But will she visit you?" Darling teases.

"She's only a couple of hours away, of course she will. Plus, Briar and I got into the same college, Rosabella's got more than one reason to come over." Daring speaks, still a little pink.

"Sure thing, Dare." Darling teases again, trying to lighten up the mood. Then she turns to Dexter again and says, "But, honestly, Dexter. I'll be fine. It'll be fine. Sometimes, things need to change for the better. Daring's already planned ahead, you can do it too."

"But what if I don't want things to change?" Dexter asks.

Daring feels his chest ebb. He knew that feeling.


"Can't sleep?" Daring asks as he descends from the stairs. The blonde finds Dexter sitting on the couch, dunking a tea bag into his favourite Star Wars mug.

Dexter responses by only nodding his head.

Pushing aside messy bed hair from his face, Daring makes his way to the couch and takes a seat beside Dexter, throwing his legs over Dexter's own legs that are nested under a woollen blanket.

"You're heavy." Dexter grumbles, frowning into his mug.

"Shut up." Daring jokes then says, "Okay, spill."

"I hope you don't mean my tea."

"I mean your worries, Dex."

There's a pause. Mostly on Dexter's part, taking long sips of his drink.

Daring's patience thins and he lowkey threatens, "You better tell or I will spill your tea."

"I'm worried about losing touch with Darling." The words come out of Dexter's mouth before he can even register it.

"She's our sister, that's kinda hard to accomplish." Daring answers, rubbing the side of his face. "And, technology exists for a reason. There are these magic tools called calling, texting and face-timing." Daring adds. "It's not like you won't be able to see Darling once you pack your bags and leave Book End. We talked to her all the time back when she was in that dumb old girls' boarding school and we can talk to her again."

"It wasn't 'all the time'. It was on the weekends and Mother would hog the phone for the majority of the calls. Darling would always end up e-mailing us instead." Dexter says. "It's not the same. It won't be the same as seeing and talking to her in person."

Daring only raises a brow in return.

Dexter defends himself, "You don't understand, Dare. It's different with Darling and I. We're twins!"

"I know I don't have that twin-sense but you don't have to rub it in my face." Daring points out and Dexter shrinks in response. "Look, little bro. We survived not having Darling around for five years when Mother shipped her off the that God awful boarding school. We can survive another year without her. It'll be fine. We'll visit during the holidays. Next Summer will come before you know it."

Dexter only tightens his grip around his cup.

Daring reasons. "Look, Darling's going to have more free time than the both of us. If you miss her, just tell her and I'm sure she'll ride her motorcycle to your campus."

Dexter doesn't reply, letting the night drag on. The clock above the TV ticks, steam rises out of his drink, and Daring continues to coax Dexter out of his funk.

"Darling's got twin-sense too, you think she wouldn't know if you missed her? There's no way she'd leave you alone, ever. She's got your back. The both of us do." Daring says. "We're Charmings for life. No pressure but there's no escape. If you think a little distance will separate us then I've got news for you."

This manages to make Dexter laugh a little. The corner of his lip twitches upwards. "Yeah."

Daring flashes his signature grin, pearly teeth shining.

"Yeah." Dexter repeats. "Thanks, Dare. You're the best."

"I know I am." Daring tosses his blonde hair dramatically just to be extra. Then he adds, "I actually woke up because I was feeling hungry." Daring admits. "You can thank me by buying me a pizza."

"What? That's practically daylight robbery!"

"It's three AM, what are you talking about? And lower your voice, people are sleeping." Daring states. "I gave you advice. Repay me for my services."

"No, you threatened to spill my tea if I didn't tell you. That doesn't count."

"Oh, look at that, whoopsie." Daring says as he reaches out and bumps his hand on the bottom of Dexter's mug.

"Daring, I swear – "

"Large pepperoni pizza. Don't forget the extra cheese. And I'm not sharing."

"I will murder you!"


Wednesday does not bring good news. Not with the sun shining and the clouds drifting and ice cold lemonade sitting in front of the group of teenagers.

"You're backing out?" Darling Charming asks her friends in shock. She looks around the table. There are currently four people present. Dexter and Raven have gone out on a date, leaving Maddie, Alistair and Bunny to meet up with Darling.

"I'm sorry, Darling." Maddie says, putting two sugars into her ice tea. "I've been wanting to take over the Wonderland Haberdashery and Tea Shoppe since I was five. And now that we've graduated high school, I can finally fulfill my dream."

Alistair reaches across the table and holds Bunny's hand. He offers an apologetic look. "I'm sorry too, Darling. Bunny and I have already agreed to go on our own adventure. I'm sure third-wheeling is something out of the question."

Darling just sighs. Yeah, third-wheeling is the last thing she wants to do.

She's got three hundred and sixty-five days of endless possibilities; to ride her motorbike around Book End, get into loads of mischief and find herself along the way. But to spend a whole year of free time alone would be horrific. With her brothers and Raven off getting their degrees, Maddie stuck in a tea shop, and, Alistair and Bunny off doing their own thing, what's she going to do? It seemed like the sleepless elite was breaking up.

Despite that, Darling answers, "I understand." while offering a smile.

It's the middle of Summer and there was nothing to do and no one to hang out with. Is it too much to ask for a miracle to come and swoop in?

Chapter Text

the sleepless elite


chapter three


 


And she's been living on the highest shelf

– Vance JoyRiptide


There used to be three of them but now there were only two Knight motorcycles left in the world.

So it really wasn't a surprise for Chase Redford to find himself staring at no-man's-land's Instagram several times a day. It was expected, really. Most times, he would stare at it with a large grin on his face like he had found a rare gem. Other times, he would check up on the page, as if scared it would just delete itself and disappear without a trace.

Pictures of the White Knight blew Chase away no matter how many times he looked or did double takes. The magnificent thing looked used but well-taken care off. Polished and shined, babied yet also pushed to the limit. This bike was loved and it was wonderful to see such affection.

no-man's-land and the White Knight ran through Chase's head for days on end. Whoever this no-man's-land fellow is, Chase has already put the guy on a pedestal. Way up there on the shelf. He just seemed so awesome. (is that too corny to say?)

Owning the White Knight, that was mad cool!

Sure, Chase owns the Red Knight but he's not going to stroke his ego or anything for owning it. He's just Chase. And that was about it. His world revolved around bikes and there was nothing wrong with that.

And for anyone rolling their eyes about his interest (perhaps even borderline obsession if they didn't know him well enough), here's some info. Motorbikes created by M.A.D. weren't just for everybody. Driving a M.A.D. took skill, experience and money. In the hands of the ignorant, the end result would only be a disaster. Example: the Black Knight. One of the original three that had its untimely death in a collision. It was a shame. A real shame.

It became a bigger shame when the M.A.D. company went out of business. There just wasn't enough people that fit the description of being skilled and rich. When there was no demand, there was no supply. And so there was no money to support the company.

Chase was one of the lucky few who did fit the description. And to meet someone who was like him (or better) was a wonder. And it would be stupid if Chase would let such an opportunity slip through his fingers while it still felt so near.

Whoever the owner is, Chase has to meet him in person. He wants to see the White Knight if it's the last thing he does.


Finding himself on no-man's-land's Instagram page again, Chase tries to think of a way to start the conversation. Maybe he should start with a joke? A pun of some sort? Be funny. Everyone loved to laugh, right?

This username for example. It's a punny name. Because, y'know, with no one in the background, of course it'd be fitting to name an account 'no man's land'.

Yeah, let's go with a joke. Chase thinks to himself, fingers hovering over the keyboard. And …

Nothing.

Nothing.

Chase rubs the dark circles under his eye. The circles practically look like bruises with all the late nights he's been pulling. He can't think of anything funny to say. Oh no, is he doomed to be boring? So now he's exhausted and unfunny? Now that's a sad life.

It's understandable for him to be nervous. But damn.

Damn.


Hello. Chase writes then instantly wanted to smack himself.

No, too formal. Chase thought as he pressed the backspace button.

He types out, Hey, bro!

Too enthusiastic. Chase deleted that greeting too.

I like your bike!

'I like your bike'? Really, what am I? Five?

I'm the Red Knight.

Wait no. Chase thought, erasing that sentence. I'm not a bike.

Chase pushes back black hair out of his face. Man, this was going to be harder than he thought.

Type type type – delete delete delete. Almost a sentence and … back space, back space, back space. Motorcycle emoji? Ha, no. No – oh no. Oh no!

Oh shit, no! I didn't mean to send that! Chase quickly runs a hand through his hair, snagging short red highlights. He's panicking!

Oh frick, he just sent a complete stranger an out of nowhere emoji! What does he do? Oh God, there's no going back.

.

.

.

He. has. to. commit.


Darling Charming huffs as she sits with her back pressed against a tree, letting the sun soak into her skin, sipping on a pouch Capri Sun. It was the Summer break she should have been the most grateful for. High School Musical 2 made everything look so much fun. Yet, here she is, utterly bored. There was nothing to do, no one to hang out with.

She was restless. She was tired of Book End. After being stuck for years in some isolated girls' boarding school and being stuck under her parents' roof once she got back, all Darling Charming wanted to do was get out of here. Blue eyes wonder to her shining White Knight that's parked by the road.

Is it bad that all she could think about was getting out of this place? She wants to jump on her bike and gun down the road into the unknown and familiar. Darling wanted to go far, far away. Maybe travel around the world. No, she definitely wanted to travel around the world – Europe, Asia, South America.

But there was the issue of doing it alone. Actually, scratch that. It wasn't an issue. She was fine with doing things alone, she was an independent girl. But travelling without anyone to come along was boring. Even if she faced new sights and smells and experiences, she wanted to at least share the memory with someone.

Too bad there wasn't anyone free to tag along.

Maybe it wasn't such a bright idea taking a year off? With all this free time, her thoughts are bound to drift back to Apple White and –

No.

No.

Darling shakes her head and finishes her pouch drink. No. She will NOT think of Apple White. She has to busy herself. She's just –

She's just not taking the Summer seriously like her brothers who are spending their time getting college essentials, laughing with friends and bonding with their significant other. She can spend her time doing fun stuff too. Loads of fun stuff. Darling just has to try harder to occupy all her free time.


Her phone beeps and Darling lazily drags her screen into her vision. She's got a message. Or rather, a whole conga-line of messages.

Hi. The message blinks on Darling's screen. This is how the conversation started. Wait, no. That's not how it started. The conversation started with a motorcycle emoji but still, this is how the words started flowing.

Chase_you_there follows up his message with, Sorry about the emoji, I have butter fingers. He continues on typing, Anyways, I'm Chase.

Darling instantly wants to take a peek at his Instagram page but doesn't. He's still messaging her and that would be rude to just disappear in the middle of the conversation. He seemed polite and good intentioned enough.

I like your bike, if I'm not mistaken, that's the White Knight, right? Chase then explains himself, I have the Red Knight. I'm kind of a motorcycle nut.

Blue eyes sparkle in return, Darling lets out an amused laugh. The Red Knight? A motorcycle nut, huh?

Wanna talk about our bikes? Chase asks.

Sounds like great banter. Darling's lips quirk upwards. She thinks to herself, Looks like this Summer just got interesting!

Chapter Text

the sleepless elite


chapter four


 


I was scared of dentists and the dark

– Vance Joy, Riptide


Walking into the peaceful living room, Dexter Charming eyes his twin with a raised eyebrow. He states, "You've been glued to your phone an awful lot lately. Who are you texting?"

The words fly over Darling's head. She doesn't even react, fingers flying over her screen.

"Um, hello?" Dexter calls, he's pretty sure his voice is louder than the TV playing in the background.

No answer.

"Earth to Darling Charming?" Dexter says then squints, waiting. He's tempted to prod her with his foot just to annoy her. (it's a sibling thing)

It's two PM and Darling's done nothing but sit on the living room couch in her Hello Kitty pyjamas and text someone for hours and hours. What's up with that? Usually his sister was the most active person in the house.

"Darling, quick! The sky is raining acid covered bagels! Come with me if you want to live!" Dexter exaggerates, shaking his hands and raising his voice for effect.

"Hm?" Darling looks up, blinking in confusion. "Sorry, what? Did you say something, Dex?"

"Did I hear 'raining bagels'?" Daring calls from the kitchen. He's probably fixing himself a quick meal; a bowl of cereal or a sandwich or something. Then Daring says, seemingly to someone else, "What? No, I'm still on the phone, Rosabella. I'm not making these things up, Dexter legit just said 'raining bagels'. I may have heard the word 'acid' too."

It's obvious that Daring's no longer interested in the conversation with the twins. There's more pacing in the kitchen before Daring lets out a proud laugh. Well, Dexter's going to pretend that his older brother isn't talking shit about him.

When Dexter turns back to Darling, she's staring at him strangely in return, causing Dexter's face and neck to turn red.

"What did you say earlier?" She asks.

"Nothing." He swats the issue away. "Anyway, who are you texting?"

"Oh," Darling's face breaks out into a smile. "I don't know. Some guy named Chase. But he's really cool, he owns a M.A.D. bike too."

"Should I be worried that you're talking to a stranger on the internet?" Dexter asks back.

"If you want to. But we've done nothing but talk about motorcycles so it's fine."

Dexter presses his lips together, sceptic. He crosses his arms on his chest and declares, "I'm going to choose to be worried."

Darling suppresses the urge to roll her eyes. She responses by pushing her screen in her brother's direction to ease his worries.

"See," She says. "We're just talking about bikes." And truth be told, the conversation was nothing but pictures of bikes and oh-ing and ah-ing about the horse power of the engines or the paint job or the arch of the design. Darling tells her twin, "There's nothing to be worried about."

But Dexter only squints in reply. "If you say so."


In some way, Dexter feels responsible for what happened to his siblings. In short: the Apple White incident.

He knew Daring was dating Apple but he didn't say anything when Apple started getting close to Darling. I mean, yes, he was partially blind, he was wearing glasses for a reason. But he wasn't that oblivious. He knew something was building up between Apple and Darling but he didn't do anything about it. Instead, he chose to keep his mouth shut until it was too late.

And then Daring and Darling suffered that horrible downfall and the Charming siblings just suffered altogether.

The one time he could have looked out for Darling and Daring, and he chose to prioritize himself and be around Raven Queen instead. (it wasn't exactly a fruitless attempt hanging out with her. There was a positive outcome. He is dating Raven now)

But …

BUT, at what cost? Two broken hearts? The hearts of his siblings? He's the worst brother ever, he just knows it. It's just a fact that Daring and Darling are too nice to say anything.

Dexter doesn't think anymore change is necessary.

But on the other hand, it's true what Darling says. He needs to grow out of his shell. He's jumped from one comfort zone to another. At first hanging out with the IT club then hanging out with the sleepless elite. He hasn't grown much while at Ever After High. Unlike his siblings.

Daring's gone soft after falling from his pedestal. The Beauty cousins, Hunter and Ashlynn have made him considerate, less egotistic. Daring is especially a puddle of goo around Rosabella, he's never been more in love. While Darling has gone hard. She rides her motorcycle more, keeps to herself, she can't stop being restless. She can't stop her heart from aching.

It's not fair that she's broken hearted.


At the Wonderland Haberdashery and Tea Shoppe, Darling sits with her friends. The table is occupied by iced tea and lemonade, and, scones with jelly and butter. Raven Queen and Maddie Hatter listens to Darling talk about her Instagram friend's motorcycle (just the bikes, not the person himself). Darling's been gushing about these motorcycles for ages. It's been a while since she last stepped out of the house and talked with members of the sleepless elite.

"His bikes are so awesome, you guys!" Darling says, she drums her fingers excitedly on the table, ignoring her drink and the leftover scones. "His collection is incredible! He has some vintage stuff too; I haven't seen some of these bikes on the market in years!" She gushes, blue eyes twinkling, voice dipped in enthusiasm. "Even from the photos, you can tell that he doesn't just buy these bikes to display them, he actually maintains them and uses them! They're well-oiled and ready to be cruised on the open road!" Darling sighs, holding her hands together. "Oh, what I wouldn't give to ride these babies!"

Maddie lets out an infectious laugh as she pours herself more iced tea. "I'm glad you finally found something to do."

"Even if it's scrutinizing a guy's Instagram page." Adds Raven, amused. "Anyway, how long have you been messaging this guy?"

"Uh … a month …?" Darling answers with uncertainty.

"You know, you've been talking about this guy's motorcycles for close to an hour now but we don't even know what exactly you're talking about." Maddie laughs, stirring her drink.

"Oh, sorry about that. Do you guys want to see his Instagram pictures?" Darling asks though she doesn't even wait for an answer. She straights away unlocks her phone and writes Chase_you_there in her search bar.

The silver-ish blonde girl combs through Chase's page, looking for a good picture of the Red Knight to show her friends. In Darling's opinion, Chase isn't all that great with taking pictures. His photo taking skills were acceptable at best. But Darling thinks that's mainly due to the fact that she has more of an artistic flare when sharing pictures of the White Knight to whoever fancied it.

"Find a picture with the guy in it!" Maddie adds, raising a finger in the air. "I wanna see this fellow's face."

"Oh, found one." Darling says, clicking on a picture of Chase taking a selfie with the Red Knight. Man, it was a little dorky but, whatever, it was the best shot with the engine in the picture. "Here," She hands her phone over to the two girls.

Maddie snatches the phone away from Darling, all excited.

"Ooohhh," Raven and Maddie coos in union, eyeing Darling's screen.

"I know right, he has the coolest bike!" Darling grins at her friends.

There's a pause after Darling says this. Raven turns to her best friend, purple contacts looking into Maddie's turquoise eyes.

"I don't think we're seeing eye to eye." Raven states and Maddie responses by handing Darling back her phone, suppressing a giggle.

Darling, of course, doesn't notice this. Once she's pulled her phone back to her, she spends a moment gazing at the impressive motorcycle engine in the picture. She sighs dreamily, "I think this is my second favourite bike in the world."

Raven says, "Um, Darling, we're oh-ing about the guy."

"Oh." Darling mutters, confused. "Why?"

Raven opens her mouth to explain the obvious but Maddie jumps in before her best friend could say anything.

"Because he's attractive, duh, silly!" Maddie laughs. "He's really cute, anyone with eyes can see that!"

Darling only fixes her friends a look. "He's okay, I guess." She mutters offhandedly. "But seriously, that engine really shows off the finest craftsmanship from M.A.D." She says excitedly. "It's such a shame that the company had to go out of business, but then again, there has been a rise in a lot of new motorcycle companies lately."

"Uh, sure."

A grin stretches on Darling's face in response. She knows her friends aren't as excited about motorcycles as she is, but she's glad they're willing to listen. Finally taking a breather, Darling occupies the small silence by taking a bite out of a buttered scone, waiting for her friends to add something into the conversation.

Raven and Maddie only exchange a knowing look. Maddie smothers her giggles once again by taking a sip of her tea, kicking Raven's ankles under the table to pressure the girl to say something.

"Darling?" Raven asks after kicking Maddie back in return.

"Yes?"

"Motorcycles aside, what do you actually know about him?"

"Who? Chase?" Darling asks. And when her friends nod, Darling taps a finger on her chin to think. "Uhh, well. He's already graduated from college so he's a little older than us."

"We're older than you." Maddie points out.

"Only a year," Darling muses.

Raven takes a sip of her drink. "I keep forgetting you and Dexter are super smart and skipped a year."

"How could you forget, Rae? Especially when I keep asking you questions about dating a guy younger than you?" Maddie teases, elbowing Raven playfully. The one year age gap was one of the many reasons Dexter was so insecure when asking Raven out. But, hey, they've worked it out now so who cares?

"That joke's getting old." Raven rolls her eyes in return. "Anyway, back to Chase."

"Oh, right." Darling hums, thinking of more facts. She hasn't really been paying attention to personal info tossed into their chats (not like there was much shared anyway). The conversation sprouted back and forth were mainly about bikes and different models and engines. "So, um. Chase says he takes rules too seriously. Something about him being a head prefect back in high school. So … I think that mentality never left him?"

"Ooohhh," Maddie drums the table with excitement. "What else?"

"I think he was also the captain of the fencing team?" Darling guesses, thinking hard. Why are they so interested in some boy? Man? He's older so …

Maddie asks, rolling her words, "Aaannnddd?"

"Uhh … that's all I got." Darling shrugs. "Sorry."

"Okay, cool. At least, he's not a total stranger." Raven says.

"And he's responsible." Maddie chimes in.

"Well, yeah, he has to be responsible. He needs that sense to be taking care of the Red Knight." Darling utters in a matter-of-fact voice.

"Aaannnddd we've come back to talking about motorcycles." Maddie teases.

"What's there else to talk about?" Darling teases back, leaning in.

Raven lets out a snort then says, "But are you going to meet him? This Chase guy?" Raven asks, flicking a finger against her teacup.

Darling hums in reply, kicking her shoes under the table. A slow smile drags on her face. "I guess I should, shouldn't I?"

"Yay!" Maddie claps her hand in return.

"I want to see his bikes." Darling says, looking dreamy again.

Maddie stops clapping. "I take that 'yay' back."

Raven let's out a chuckle, "Why am I not surprised?"

Chapter Text

the sleepless elite


chapter five


 


You're the magician's assistant in their dreams

– Vance Joy, Riptide


Can we meet up? Chase Redford reads the question several hours later. Hours and hours and hours later then he would have liked because he's a busy man, testing bikes for a living.

But when he does get to the message, he feels his mouth drop. Because, holy shit! Holy heck!

He never thought no-man's-land would be the one reaching out to see him. He never thought he'd be worth such a question from someone so cool. But now that it's happened, Chase was determined to impress the guy, the owner of the White Knight.

Racking his brain for a good spot to meet, Chase goes through a mental list of places where two guys can casually hang out and talk about motorcycles until someone gets tired.

A light bulb flickers above his head and Chase's fingers fly across the screen. He replies with lightning speed, Sure! Let's meet at the Rabbit Hole.


With a nicely iron shirt on, jeans and polished shoes, Chase sits at the Rabbit Hole bar, waiting. His mind is all over the place. Did he over-dress? Was the shirt too much? Wait, what if he under-dressed? He was wearing his work shoes after all, the ones with steeled-toe shoes just in case someone backs up and crushes his feet.

Chase chews the inside of his cheek, nursing his beer. He's early. Way too early – ten minutes actually. He's so tempted to take out his phone and browse social media but he also doesn't want to accidentally miss no-man's-land and let the guy walk pass him.

His head is still filled with worrying thoughts when Chase feels someone tap him on the shoulder.

He turns and is met, face to face, with a girl with long silver-ish blonde hair. She was dressed in jeans, a Leatherman jacket thrown over a plain shirt and silver wedges. He's taken aback by her beauty.

She's pretty. Chase thinks to himself.

"You're early." She says then places a hand on her heart. "Phew, I thought I was going to wait here forever. I got too excited and couldn't wait."

"Um, what?" He hums then frowns, suddenly remembering why he came to the Rabbit Hole to begin with. He convinces himself he doesn't have time to chat with this girl. He came here to meet no-man's-land and see the White Knight in person, not flirt.

"What?" She echoes back then she sees how conflicted he is.

He shakes his head at her. "I'm sorry, I can't buy you a drink."

"Oh." She says and blinks then offers him a smile. "Then at least let me buy you a drink."

So not only was she pretty, apparently, she was charming too. But Chase is determined to not let himself get pulled into other engagements.

"Sorry, but, I think we should stop this. I'm meeting someone here. Please, leave me be." Chase says as politely as he can when rejecting someone.

Her smile drops and her blue eyes filled with confusion. "But you agreed to meet up with me. You can't just cancel the moment I show up."

This time, Chase makes a face. Has she confused him with someone else? A Tinder date perhaps? "Um," He hums again. "I didn't make any plans with you."

"Yes, you did." She says, raising a brow, before holding up her phone. There, it displays a series of messages exchanged.

Chase leans forward, glancing at the last few messages sent. He didn't want to snoop too much into her privacy. But then, low and behold, familiar words flash across her screen. It's the conversation he last had with no-man's-land.

Chase's mouth drops as he says, "Wait. You're …"

She can't be no-man's-land … Chase think, doubtful, eyeing the girl.

In his mind, this was a prank. There was no way a beautiful girl like her would talk to someone like him. Tired and probably over/under-dressed and – then the girl closes her Instagram app and reveals her background. It's an unmistakeable zoomed in picture of the White Knight's engine.

Oh, never mind. It is her. Chase thinks, now feeling silly for doubting her.

"Darling Charming." The girl introduces herself, offering a hand to shake as soon as she pockets her phone.

But Chase doesn't take it. He's too blown away. He felt the need to smack himself on the head. The username wasn't no-man's-land because of the lack of people in pictures, it was because the user was. a. girl!

"I just –" Chase shutters. "I …" He trails off, scratching the back of his neck. He's flustered. "I didn't expect …"

"You didn't expect me to be a girl?" Darling asks.

"Yeah. I'm sorry if that sounds rude and sexist." Chase apologises, cheeks tinted pink. "I just feel so embarrassed right now, I've been calling you 'bro' for weeks. You should have said something. I'm so sorry."

Darling only laughs in return and takes a seat on a neighbouring stool.

He tells her, "I still think you're really cool though."

"Thank you." Darling offers him a bigger smile. "So," Darling says, leaning against the bar. "How long have you had the Red Knight?"

Oh, jumping straight to the motorcycle talk, huh?

Chase gives her a toothy grin in return. He likes where this is going. "A couple of months." Chase admits. "It was a college graduation gift from my mom."

"From your mom?" Darling asks.

"Yeah, sometimes I think she spoils me too much. She always tries to get me the wildest things."

Darling suppresses the urge to laugh. She can't believe she's talking so light-heartedly about someone's mother. "Really, now?"

"I can shamelessly admit I'm a momma's boy. It's a cool gift." Chase says, nursing his beer. "And how long have you had the White Knight?"

"Since I was sixteen."

"So two ye –"

"A year," Darling corrects, instantly causing Chase's eyes to widen.

"Wait, a year?" Chase parrots. His back instantly straightens before he hunches over her and says in a harsh whisper, "So you're seventeen?"

"Yup," She says then lets her eyes travel to the beer in his hand before the menu on the wall.

Panic strikes Chase. He realises he's just invited someone underage person to a place that serves alcohol. Oh no. He asks her, "I thought you said you graduated high school?"

Darling merely lifts a shoulder. "I took advance classes. I graduated early."

"You're seventeen." Chase repeats again, unnerved. "Then why did you – Why did you agree to meet me at this bar? Oh my God, you're not supposed to be here. That's breaking the rules. Didn't the staff check your ID?"

"No, I just smiled and walked in. I think I charmed my way through?" Darling taps her chin in response then shrugs again. "It happens sometimes."

"We have to go." Chase says quickly then puts down his drink on the counter before getting off his seat.

Darling wordlessly gazes at Chase in return, blinking at his flustered actions. She says, "Wait, we're leaving already? But I just got here. Don't you want to finish your beer first?"

"N – No. No." Chase says. "We have to get you out of here. It's against the law for minors to be at a bar."

Darling feels herself deflate. She's all for fun and mischief but this was nothing to be so anxious about. "Meh,"

"No, not 'meh'. Come on." Chase tells her, pulling her out of her chair. Darling practically stumbles out of the stool she's sitting on.

"You weren't kidding when you said you were strick about rules." Darling observes as she lets Chase pull her towards the door. There was no winning with him, Darling knew that fact. Not when he's stronger, a head taller than her and in maximum panic overdrive. She tells him, "You have a stick up your butt, you know that?"

Chase only grunts in return. It seemed like he was well aware of that fact.

"Where will we go?" Darling asks, just as they're by the door. A part of her can't believe she's leaving the Rabbit Hole so soon. But the other part tells her, the sooner she gets to leave this place, the faster she'll get to see the Red Knight in person.

Chase stops walking. He pauses, thinking. That's right, where will they go? The whole objective of meeting up was to talk and bond and fawn over each other's M.A.D. motorcycles. But it's a little ruined now that he's panicking and she's obviously disappointed that he's such a stickler for rules.

But then an idea comes to his mind. Chase turns back and looks at her. He suggests, "Do you want to ride around Book End on our bikes?"

A grin spreads on Darling's face, wide like the Cheshire cat's. "Race you there."

Chapter Text

the sleepless elite


chapter six


 


Oh, and they come unstuck

– Vance Joy, Riptide


Never in Chase Redford's life did he imagine he would have to live up to his username: Chase_you_there, after Darling had took off at lightning speed, jumped on her White Knight and practically tore out of that bar like she was never there to begin with.

What was it with this girl? It was like she had experience in making a quick get away!

"Catch up, slow-poke!" Darling shouts through her motorcycle helmet, Chase could hear the happiness flowing through her voice.

Chase wanted to go faster, he really did. Chase after her and have the time of his life with the Knights side by side but, dear Lord and above, he had to stick to the speed limit! Rules are made for a reason!

After riding around Book End for a while at whatever appropriate speed they could, they finally reached a certain part of the town that was quieter and isolated. Mostly due to the fact that it was partly a desert. Just rocks and sands and sickly looking plants that needed water – oh, and a cliff, somewhere. Probably? Chase hasn't exactly explored this part of town, it's basically off limits. Well, not really. But the questionable cliff existed in his mind and that was a good enough reason!

"We should probably slow down!" Chase says over the wind ripping through the air, Darling's excited yelling of 'Woohoo!' and random fist pumps.

"No, we should go off the grid!" Darling replies, and that's exactly what she does and where she goes.

Darling drives beyond the border, going fast and disappearing from Chase's view. And that's when Chase basically stopped his bike and had. a. meltdown.

...

I killed her! Chase thought to himself, feeling weak. He felt like fainting. Wait, no – he was definitely going to faint. I brought a seventeen year old underage girl to a bar then killed her!

Chase tightens his grip around his helmet. What was he going to tell the officers when they get to the scene of the crime? 'It's not my fault because I told her to slow down and she didn't then rode off a cliff'?!

Well, technically Darling Charming didn't ride off a cliff. She carried on riding after he had told her to stop; turning around a corner where a huge rock blocked his view. Chase just relied on the sound of her running engine and his hearing after that, listening to the sound of Darling's bike fading, fading fading fading away then entirely stopping. That was when Chase assumed she had died.

Oh God, he was. a. murderer! He knew his life was too good to be true; adopted by a sweet rich lady, given a proper education, a sweet ride AND his dream job. Of course, this would be the moment his life would turn around! Of course!

Then a sudden voice calls out, "Chase?! Are you still there?!"

"Darling, you're alive?!" Chase asks back. He needed to make sure, he doesn't want his soul dragged to hell or anything. He's seen that creepy Drag me to hell movie (regretted it but learned something).

"You didn't chase after me." Darling says, appearing from behind the bolder, her own helmet in her hands. She was solid, non-ghostly-transparent and alive, alright. "You really need to live up to your name."

"I'm so glad you're okay, I thought you had died. I didn't know what to do!"

Darling only replies by giving Chase a look. Pale starlight blue to his bright eyes, the shade of robin egg blue. She tells him, "You could have just followed me."

Chases only sighs, resisting the urge to cross his arms. If he puts the fun aside, he would say he felt like he was babysitting. He reasons, "It was dangerous and probably against the law."

This time, it was Darling who resisted the urge to sigh. "I need to teach you how to chill. That stick up your butt is too deep in."


Despite the panic of a possible near-death experience and Chase practically lecturing Darling about road safety, Darling begged Chase to stay around the desert area. Apparently, she wanted to take photos of the White Knight for her Instagram. Darling stated she to wanted to take shots of her baby looking all cool in contrast to the hot desert and wild winds, surrounded by Anakin Skywalker's object of hatred – sand.

Chase sighs, as he let Darling do whatever she wanted to do. Darling Charming – was without a doubt, a Charming, she had skill in persuading. Taking out his phone, Chase decided to check his e-mail while leaning against his bike.

The sun was setting, they had apparently spent hours riding. Should he offer to buy something to eat for Darling or had he had enough mischief for today? He swears he's had like two heart attacks today.

Darling Charming snaps away on her phone, she was in her own little motorcycle obsessed world. The fading sunlight was hitting just the right spots. This picture was going to come out gorgeous! She doesn't even need any filters to add some razzle-dazzle to the moment.

At the last click, Darling turns away from the White Knight and turns her attention to Chase, seeming to remember her riding buddy. Ah yes, just her and a hot guy with flashy motorcycles and a charming view – that's pretty much when her breath hitches in her throat. Her pale blue eyes double in size, taking in the sight. With the lighting and that pose and – oh!

Darling sucks in a breath, lowering her phone. She swears it's a magical moment! Darling calls out, "Chase,"

He doesn't look up, preoccupied with his e-mails.

"Chase," Darling calls again, louder this time. It almost seemed needy, like a 'Pay attention to me now, please' voice.

"Hm?" Chase cranes his neck to look at her, blinking. At that moment, even the sunlight hit him just right, making his dark hair and red highlights pop. He offered her a comforting smile in return for her needy voice.

Darling takes in the view with the golden sunset and their shiny bikes. She's almost too wowed to say more but manages to motion her hand sharply. "Get out of the shot."

"Wha –"

"Get out of the shot!" She repeats herself, adding volume to her voice again.

"O – Oh. But my bike – I'll just – Okay." Chase pushes himself off the Red Knight and scurries to the side, hoping it was far enough. "Is this okay?"

"Yeah, thanks," Darling says, a grin growing on her face as she snaps away on pictures of their two motorbikes. The magic moment did not include Chase Redford.


"Ohhh," Darling sighs dreamily at her phone, a hand on her cheek.

Chase leans over her shoulder, looking at her screen. He didn't need to though since he was a good head taller than her but he did it anyway. On Darling's screen was a picture of the Knights, side by side in all of their M.A.D. glory.

He says to her, "Oh, that looks reallly nice. You have an eye for photography."

Darling turns her head, smiling. "Thanks. I'll tag you."


More time passes, the world spins.

Her older brothers are busy packing up for college by the time Darling returns from her usual drive around town with Chase. Zooming through Book End at an alarming speed has really helped distract her from the reality of the bad break-up with a certain ex-girfriend and the four years Daring and Dexter will spend not by her side.

It feels like she just got her brothers back last year after she wiggled her way out of that boarding school and now she's only going to see them for a couple of months during the holidays.

Darling goes in for an embrace while her parents stand back and watch their kids grow. Darling hugs her brothers, arms wrap around their shoulders, her hands bunch up the back of their shirts. She's holding them tight because she doesn't want to let go.

She says to them, "I'll miss you."

"We know."

"I'll miss you so much," She says truthfully as she holds them tighter.

"We'll miss you too." Dexter replies, he's this close to crying.

"You're kind of suffocating us though," Daring speaks up. His sister had one hell of a strong grip.

Mr and Mrs Charming neatly packs up lugages in the boot of two separate cars their sons own, arranging boxes and slamming doors. The adults are a little tear-y eyed too much they're on a schedule and the boys must go soon.

"I hope Father and Mother don't leave you alone too much." Dexter says, almost a whisper.

It's no mystery that Mr and Mrs Charming are busy people, it was obvious that Darling would spend a large majority of her time alone at the Charming house. But that's why she wanted a year off, right? To have some alone time, self-reflect, find herself?

Darling doesn't know how to response to her twin's statement. Her heart feels heavy.

And just like in a basic cliché family movie, Daring takes it upon himself to make things better. He is the eldest son, after all. Responsibility is all on him. It's been on his shoulders the moment the twins were born.

The blonde boy turns to his sister. "I wished I could take a year off." Daring says, looking wishful. "My Senior year was pretty rough too. But I know Father and Mother would have head my head if I did."

Darling laughs, now pulling away from their hug, she bumps her shoulder against his. "That's the perks of being the baby of the family."

Daring finger guns his sister and Darling finger guns him back. It's almost a traditional greeting they give each other. Dexter, on the other hand, would never dream of doing such a thing because, according to him, he's 'dorky enough as it is'.

Dexter gives his siblings a look, giving them a weird stare. Blue eyes shining, much like theirs. "I can't believe we're leaving."

That single line made Darling's chest hurt. She goes in for another hug.

Summer has ended.

Chapter Text

the sleepless elite


chapter seven


 


There's this movie that I think you'll like,
This guy decides to quit his job and heads to New York City,
This cowboy's running from himself.

– Vance Joy, Riptide


Darling Charming hasn't slept in her room in a long time. Honestly, she's lost count of the hours, days, weeks spent away from her own bed.

Often, she switches between sleeping in Dexter's room and Daring's room. It often depended on who she missed the most. If she missed both then she'd find herself either taking Dexter's nerdy Star Wars blanket to Daring's room or taking Daring's silk pillows to Dexter's room.

(It totally kills her brothers' aesthetic but who cares? She missed them loads!)

What are you doing? Darling texts in a group chat the Charming siblings made. Dexter takes an hour to get back to his twin while Daring three hours later. It's a flop of a conversation.


 What are you doing? Darling asks, a question now sent to Chase_you_there.

Taking a lunch break. I'm at work. He answers two minutes later.

This brightens Darling's mood. Yes, finally, conversation! Can I come over?

To my work place …? He asks.

Yeah, gimme a tour. Darling sends several pleading emoji with some sparkly ones. Show me what you really know about bikes!

Show you what I 'know'? Are you doubting my skills?

If I said 'yes', would you say 'yes' too? Darling prods, hoping Chase would take the bait to solve her boredom and massive case of I-miss-my-brothers sickness.

Chase's next reply comes a little slower. It seemed like he was typing then deleting then re-typing his words, trying to find the right words to say to her. When his text finally does come through, it read: Get ready to be wowed Miss Darling Charming, because you'll find yourself picking your jaw off the ground!

The directions to Chase's workplace isn't as confusing as she thought. It turns out, it's just a row of small warehouses that's at the slightly secluded part of Book End.

"Everyone has their own warehouse," Chase Redford explains as soon as Darling's parked her White Knight under a cool tree. "One employee per warehouse. Keep us focus and prevents chitter chatter." He gesture to the rows or bikes perched on the floor or elevated. Chase wipes his hand on his jeans that's stained with grease. "Though it does get lonely sometimes. I mean, after spending hours fixing up bikes alone and listening the same dozens of songs on repeat."

Darling finds herself oh-ing and ah-ing before Chase can even explain what types of motorbikes are surrounding her. There are a few she recognizes and a few that she doesn't. Brand new models, oh, she could just die happy here.

Chase turns away from the entrance, ready to knock her socks off. He smiles widely at her, "Shall I start the tour?"

"Hold up," Darling answers, blue eyes shinning as she takes everything in. She doesn't even hide her excitement, "Is that a Super Cub?!"

Chase laughs, "Yes, it is."

"And is that's a Dwarfs Z7?!" Darling points to a Valencia orange bike.

"Oh, you're good at this." Chase gave her a small clap.

"Oh my God, that's the Golden Crown!"

Chase hums, suddenly feeling like he was a stranger at his own work place.

"You have the 1989 Seashell here too!" Darling squeals, rushing towards it as she leaves Chase behind in the dust.

"Yeah …" Chase's grin slowly drops. It felt like he was ... It felt like he had nothing to showcase. Darling was naming the latest models left and right with ease. "Is there anything you want to ask? Any questions?"

"I'm fine," Darling replies, her voice seemed far away, like she was in la la land. And she may as well be with the way she was floating around the warehouse, point and gasping and naming bikes.

Chase felt like he was slowly fading into the background. There were times where he had to explain to his co-workers the details of the bikes they had to work on but it seemed like Darling knew it all. In fact, it seemed like Darling was taking the lead.

And, after fifteen minutes, Chase just ends up awkwardly trailing behind Darling as she did her own thing – which was pointing at more motorbikes at awe, telling him their model names and horse power engines like he didn't already know then adding information that he actually didn't know.

Chase felt out-classed. But honestly, he should have seen it coming.

"Thanks for today, Chase."

"You're welcome," Chase replies, needing to sit down to gain some composure of how vast Darling's motorbike knowledge was.

"I enjoyed it a lot." Darling tells him, hands laced behind her back as she skipped along. "You were good company."

Chase only lets out a weak laugh.

He felt the opposite of 'good' after all the knowledge Darling displayed. Honestly, he had nothing to add. But he guesses he did something right by asking Darling to come over because she's got this huge charming smile plastered on her face.

Well, today didn't turn out the way Chase had expected. But after their first meet up, it didn't seem all that surprising.


"Hey, Chase!" A sweet voice calls. Very much female, familiar and non-co-worker-y.

Chase swears he almost knocked his head against the bottom of his worktable, making his toolbox and, several nuts and bolts jump a small distance from their original spot.

"… Darling?" Chase echoes back her name, rubbing the back of his sore head as he peers at the entrance of his workplace. He catches sight of Darling's familiar silver-ish blonde poofy hair. "What are you doing here?"

"You said you get lonely sometimes so I thought I'd drop by and keep you company." Is what Darling replies casually like it's a thing of habit to drop by his workplace unannounced. She cradles her white helmet in one hand and a plastic bag in another.

"That's …" Chase blinks. It's true what he said. He did say it gets lonely at times but he also said it was for productivity – so that he'd work more efficiently and minimize distractions so really … "That's really sweet of you but –"

"I brought you cream-cheese bagels, they're freshly made!" Darling cuts in, lifting up the plastic bag and shaking it excitedly. Those bagels were likely squashed by the way Darling was vibrating with excitement. Though, Chase could tell the excitement was from her inability to contain her gleefulness from being surrounded by the bikes. "My friend Maddie gave me extras, it's from her dad's tea shop!"

"Umm." Chase hums, still rubbing the back of his neck.

His eyes flick to the old clock on his worktable, it was barely noon. A feeling pools in Chase's stomach as his eyes slid back to look at Darling in the face. But when he sees how happy she is, he can't really find it in himself to say 'no' to her.

"Well …" He chews the inside of his cheek and says, "Well, I guess you could stay for a little while. An early lunch break never hurts anyone."

"Yes!" Darling pumps a fist and practically smoothers the bagels onto his worktable when she slams it down and races towards the latest models he has to work with.


Darling Charming's hanging out at Chase Redford's assigned warehouse again. She's perched herself on a new motorcycle planned to be tested out.

"So," Chase says, working on his wrench. "First impressions."

Darling raises a brow, "First impressions?"

"Yeah, first impressions – go!" He says this so the time will go by faster and so Darling's mind isn't too preoccupied with the thought of missing her brothers.

Darling hums for a moment, "Hmm, well, you had that selfie with the Red Knight, I showed it to my friends, they thought you were attractive." Darling says but then taps her chin. "Or was it 'cute'? One of those things."

Chase looks up from his engine work, whipping grease on his forehead in the process. "Thanks, that's every man's dream, to be thought to be cute."

Darling only snorts in reply.

Chase asks, "And what did you think of me?"

A grin spreads across Darling's face. She gives him a charming smile. "I thought you were alright."

"Wow, thanks for the huge confidence boost." He says, leaning heavily on the sarcastic side as he works his wrench.

"You're welcome."

"But, anyways," Chase says, ducking back to his work. "I expected more like 'mature' or 'cool' or, I don't know, 'awesome'. I only brought you to the Rabbit Hole bar because I thought I could impress you with my mature ways, being twenty-one and all. You said you graduated high school and had spent some time cruising around on the White Knight so I thought you were older than me. Even if you weren't, I heard the owner of the bar was a pretty lenient guy. I still thought it was against the rules but I wasn't thinking of that at the time. I just wanted to impress you. I thought you were super cool, owning the White Knight and knowing so much about bikes."

"Aww, you thought I was cool?" Darling coos and Chase was glad that his head was ducked away from Darling's sight. If not, she would have seen his heated ears and the red blush crawling up his neck.

Chase clears his throat, regaining composure as he replies, "Yeah, I actually still do. Super cool. Anyway, I thought everything would go down smoothly but then it turned out you were … well, barely eighteen."

"Don't say it like that. I've tasted alcohol. It's no big deal." Darling answers.

Chase's head immediately pops back up. Blue eyes squinting with authority. "Who gave it to you?"

"This guy named Sparrow. He owed me a favour, I was feeling adventurous, and he had a cool mom. So she bought us a pack of beer and, my friends and I sat in a circle and shared one bottle under her supervision."

Chase calms down a little after that, "Oh, that's not so bad. I thought it'd be more rebellious."

She lets out a laugh, tempted to kick Chase on the sides playfully but then snaps her fingers, "Actually, I could tell you about this one time –"

"No, don't tell me!" Chase cuts in, waving his hand in front of her to stop her. "I swear you're trying to give me a heart attack."

A sweet smile is what Chase sees before Darling answers, "Of course, how else am I supposed to inherit your warehouse?"

"You're not in my will!"

"But no one you know loves motorbikes as much as I do!"


It's another day spent together and Chase watches Darling jump on some bike that's probably her weekly favourite, swinging her legs and clicking her heels in place.

"Don't you have any practical shoes?" Chase asks, noticing Darling's high heels. "Isn't riding a bike with those on uncomfortable?"

There's a pause then Darling replies, "I ... I used to have a pair of sparkly silver converse."

Chase gives her a strange look. "Used to? What happened?"

She's hesitant in her answer, but she answers it anyways. "I buried them in my backyard after prom." – Buried, like a secret.


One of Chase's co-workers told him this ridiculous theory that Darling was interested in him – Chase – which is why she's always teasing, poking fun at him and showering him with cream-cheese bagels. It's apparently the science of flirting or something but Chase thinks otherwise. Darling is just Darling; a motorcycle nut like him, cream-cheese bagel showering and all, and nothing else.

Though, Chase wouldn't lie. He wants to test it out first before writing Darling's possible feelings for him off. Like, does she really only see him as a 'friend' and nothing else? Does she only have interests in the bikes? Because, apparently, he's been told in high school that he's oblivious to girls and their flirtatious tendencies (but in Chase's defence, education came first. Plus, he had a lot on his plate as the head prefect and the captain of the Fencing Club).

"Hey, Darling?" Chase calls, ten feet apart.

"Yeah?" Darling calls back, turning away from an engine she's inspecting. She thinks the horsepower is amazing!

Chase offers her his best winning smile, flashing it with pride. It's almost as charming as her own dazzling grin. He waits for a swooned reaction.

Darling only blinks in response. "Er, okay … is that it? To check your teeth? Because there's no food stuck between it."

His smile drops, "… Yeah, okay, thanks."

Then Darling turns around and continues looking at the engine in front of her.

Chase's co-worker was wrong. It was the bikes. Yup, no doubt about it.


They've gotten scarily close together and the stories they swap among each other either leaves Darling laughing so hard she swears she might pee herself or Chase freaking out and claiming that he might pass out from all the stress Darling's giving him from all the wild things she's gotten herself involved in.

"– So, that's the story. I graduated college then got the job the same year. It's been a good six months." Chase finishes explaining over the finger sandwiches Darling brought over.

Darling screws her face up, looking deep into her warm tea. "And you haven't considered taking any breaks since working? At all?"

"… Yes?"

"Are you a machine? You can't work for half a year non-stop!"

Darling gets an eyeroll in return before Chase says, "Enough about me. What about you?"

"What about me?" Darling asks, small hands cupping her thermos tea.

"Don't you have to go get your education?" Chase questions as he dusts his hands and turns to her.

"Uh," Darling bites her lower lip. She finds her smile slowly fading. She hasn't been able to answer that. She knows she's supposed to be figuring herself out but so far … months have passed and she's come up empty-handed. It didn't seem like she's changed at all. "Well …"

Chase thinks this is the first time he's seen Darling so uncertain. She's usually so blunt about what she wants. For Darling to be this lost was almost unsettling. Frighteningly unsettling.

Darling cover the cap of her thermos and walks over to Chase's worktable. She takes a few seconds to settle the thermos down. With her back still turned to him, she says, "No, I have to find myself first."

"So you're not going to get a degree?" Chase asks.

Darling looks back at Chase then away, clicking her heels. If only they were magic and could send her far, far away. There's no place like home (but hers is empty). When her heels do nothing, Darling simple shrugs. The mood has gone from playful to serious just like that.

"And how long will that take?" He asks.

Darling shrugs again.

"So you're just going to push back your education until something finally clicks? Darling, that could take ages. I don't think that's a wise idea." Chase answers, suddenly concerned. "Are you … by any chance, running away from something?"

Apple White flashes briefly in Darling's head. But she swats the thought away before it can linger too long. Darling says, almost too hotly, "What? You think just because I'm always riding off here and there then that means I've got some complex of running away from my problems?"

"You just seem like you're restless."

"I … I do want to travel." Darling answers, almost weakly. "Get out of here, Book End is so …" She sighs, "I don't know,"

"You're running away from something, aren't you?" Chase asks again. There's no fooling him. He's spent years low-key interrogating rambunctious kids as the head prefect at Wonderland High. It's practically a perfected skill now. He says, "I was right, that's why you're always out and about, and never sticking to one spot."

Darling's face immediately hardens and she shows Chase this when she makes a sharp turn to face him. This wasn't supposed to be an emotional talk. It was supposed to be fun times and laughs and jokes. Darling answers, "I'm allowed to be out of the house."

Without even realising it, a single tear finds its way down Darling's cheek and Chase apologises after coming to his mistake, "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have –"

"I'm allowed to not be stuck at home like some damsel waiting to be rescued." Darling's mouth quivers as she repeats her words.

"I'm sorry," He says. Chase immediately wants to take his words back. He didn't mean to make her cry.

But as fast as that tear appeared, it disappeared equally as fast. Darling wipes it away with the back of her hand, determined not to let her heartbreak show. She looks elsewhere and shoos his apology away, "It's nothing."

Though Chase thinks it's not nothing.

"I just miss my brothers. I wish they were here." Darling admits, staring at her silver heels. Then she repeats, "I wish they were here but they're not. They're moving on with their lives and I'm just here, trying to find myself."

"I …" Chase wants to say he understands but he really can't. Not when he doesn't. "It'll be okay."

Darling only sniffs in reply.

"Do you ..." Chase asks, trailing off. He stands there awkwardly, not knowing what to do. He doesn't really know how to comfort others that well. Especially someone who's as babied as Darling. The unfortunate price that came from being an only child, the inability to comfort others (that and possibly sharing). They're once again ten feet apart but he asks, "Do you want to hug it out?"

"Yes," Darling sniffs then goes straight for it.

She tucks her head under his chin and squeezes his torso with her crushing grip. He wasn't sure if Darling was trying to comfort herself or suffocate him to death. Was her plan to take over his warehouse still a thing?

Darling says after a moment of shaking and soaking up a specific spot on his shirt, "You remind me of my brothers."

Oh.

Well, he just got brother-zoned.

Darling adds, "You have that annoyingly flashy smile like Daring's and your hair's dark like Dexter's."

"Umm," Chase mutters. Yup, definitely got brother-zoned. He didn't expect to but it was a happening thing, so sure, he'll roll with it. He tries to think of a distraction. Maybe talking about things she loves will help? In the end, the motorcycle side of him wins over the awkward hugs. "Why do you post emoji's when you post pictures of the White Knight?"

"Because there are no words to express how much I love my baby." She answers almost immediately.

"Fair enough," He admits then asks another question to distract her, "Do you … want to see more bikes? I'm currently working on them,"

"More?" A wet reply asks him back. "Now?"

"Yeah," Chase answers – Good Lord, was the distraction working? He can't tell.

"Where?" Darling angles her head and blinks her eyelashes at him. Aw, she looked so damn sad.

"They're in my garage at my house. You can come over to my place anytime." He says, not really thinking. "I mean, if you want to."

He sees Darling brighten up, she nods. That was good, at least he had managed to cheer her up slightly.

"Anytime?" She repeats his words, not as wet.

"Yeah, sure." Chase echoes. If only Chase Redford had known that he had just opened the gates to a whole new hell.

Chapter Text

the sleepless elite


chapter eight


 


I wanna be your left hand man

– Vance Joy, Riptide


"I brought sandwiches!" Darling greets brightly at Chase Redford's front door. She's been doing an awfully lot of visiting and dropping by. And she's still in her pyjamas. If anyone asks why, it's because she no longer cares about how she looked. No one was around to mother her at home.

"You don't have to constantly buy me food when you come around." Chase says.

"Of course, I do! They're housewarming gifts!"


"Good morning!" A voice greets Chase Redford cheerfully. Blue eyes open to see a bright face smiling down at him as he laid in bed.

Chase blinks, making sure what he was seeing wasn't all a weird dream. He's pretty sure he's got an awful case of bedhead and morning breath and all those other things that makes him look like a walking zombie.

He asks, "Darling?" His voice slightly confused by her presence, did they agree to meet up again? If they did, he didn't recall agreeing to doing so.

And she perks up in return.

"What are you doing in my house at …" Chase's eyes squinted at the clock hanging above his bookshelf. "… eight AM?"

"I got bored of doing nothing after going on my morning run." Darling explains.

"What …?"

"You're slow in the morning, Chase. You're going to have to do better if you ever want to out race me."

"What?" Chase repeats, trying to process everything. "Wait, how'd you get in my house?"

"Never mind that!" Darling orders, ripping off his blanket. "Come on, get up! We're going to ride around Book End while the sun's still hanging high in the sky!"

Little did he know, it was only the beginning of a series of sudden visits.


After that 'eventful' morning, Darling starts going over to Chase's house more. It's been a month, and, to be completely honest, it was still jarring to find Darling over at his house for her spree of 'visits'. Because she comes over even when he's not around.

"Darling, you need to stop breaking and entering into my house. That's breaking the rules, there are laws against it." States Chase, looking down at Darling who's comfortably settled on his living room sofa.

The girl was curled up into a ball on his couch with his blanket wrapped around her small frame. The only blanket in this house. Darling's got his favourite copy of The Long Walk by Stephen King and everything. Chase still couldn't believe he willingly surrendered his blanket to her.

Chase knows he may sound a little spoiled being an only child and all, but, there are limits to 'sharing is caring'. At least, Chase thinks so. Darling's hell bent on pleading to share everything. He wouldn't be surprised if she pleaded to share breathing the same oxygen if he could claim some for his own. Is there no such thing as personal space?

"But you know who I am. I don't steal anything and most of the time, I'm still here when you get back from work." Replies Darling. "So it's not really breaking and entering, plus, I used your key."

"What key?" Chase parrots, eyes bulging in shock. She knows about the spare key? He never told her about that!

She explains, placing a red bookmark between the pages of the novel. "Your spare house key. The one you leave under that fake potted plant by the door."

"If it's not breaking and entering then it's basically trespassing." Chase says, resisting the urge to slap his forehead.

"No, it's not. It's not trespassing if it's nec vi, nec clam, nec precario," Darling tells him.

"What? Is that Latin?" Chase asks.

"Yeah, it means 'without force, without secrecy and without permission',"

"Why do you know this?" He could feel a twitch starting to form on below his eye. That wasn't a good sign. It suddenly reminded him of high school, whenever that blonde Wonderland boy (and that tiny petite girl he always dragged around with) went adventuring about Wonderland High during lesson time.

Darling pauses, an innocent smile on her face, "My friend's and I may have broken into our principal's house a few times. We needed to make sure we were in the clear so I looked up the elements to satisfy trespassing –"

"Darling!" Chase raises his voice a little, scolding her.

Darling winces a little. She felt like she was a little kid getting caught red-handed. "In my defence, he was a di –" But one look at the serious expression on Chase's face and Darling's voice dies down. "I still think he deserved it …" She repeats as she trails off, a small pout on her lips.

Chase almost forgives her for her rule breaking.

Almost.


Chase starts hiding his spare key as soon as he steps out of the house, putting the darn thing in new places. And when that didn't work, he started bringing it to work with him, yet …

You left your back-bathroom window open. The message pops up on Chase's screen one day while he's elbow deep in grease.

Chase sighs.

Darling Charming always seemed to find a way in. He could have sworn that window was tiny! How did she manage to squeeze through that? Then again, Darling Charming was a small thing compared to him, and considering that she always broke (well 'visited', in her words) into his home in her pyjamas, it was probably nothing to get into.

Every time Chase puts the key in a new spot, Darling finds it.


You're out of milk. Darling texts him out of the blue one morning.

What? Chase texts back, raising his head from his pillow as he squints at the words.

It's probably half past noon because the sunlight wasn't blinding him. He's slept in. But then again, he's been coming home completely exhausted lately. It seems most companies have been releasing new prototypes, and there was only one of him to test them all. He could feel the exhaustion catch up to him.

Darling repeats herself, Your fridge, it's out of milk.

What? But I've been in my house for hours! Where are you? Chase asks then hears a flush sound.

"Darling Charming," Chase mumbles sleepily as soon as he sees Darling cross his bedroom from across the hall. He would have sounded a little bit sterner if he hadn't just woken up a minute ago.

"I'm leaving!" Darling calls as Chase hears her race out the door.

"What?"

"Mother and Father are returning early from work, we're going to lunch together," She tells him.

He doesn't get a word in before he hears his own front door shut. He collapses back onto his pillow, praying that this is all a bad dream.

.

.

.

Chase realises later when he goes to make coffee that it isn't all one strange dream. His milk has run out. He groans lowly and contemplates and smashing his forehead against his kitchen cabinets, "Darling …"


"We need to talk," Is how Chase starts the conversation as he taps his finger on his folded arms.

Her slouched posture on his red couch straightens. Darling puts down her phone, sensing the seriousness of Chase's voice. She asks, "About what?"

"About you coming to my house unannounced." Chase says. He's lost count on the number of times he's almost had a heart attack after hearing someone uninvited in his house. He tells her as he pinches the bridge of his nose, "You need to give me a heads up when you come around. I was half dead yesterday after coming home from work. I wanted to pass out on the couch. I didn't see you in the dark, I almost crushed you."

"I'm sure you're not that heavy." Darling flutters as she makes circles on the sofa's arm.

"You could have died." Chase exasperated, running a hand through his dark hair.

"That's a little exaggerated," Darling answers but Chase only gives her a pointed look in return.

Now she understands why Chase Redford was appointed head prefect after Wonderland High, he had a natural gift for controlling the rebellious. She feels small in her matching lavender pyjamas. Darling stares for what seemed like forever into Chase's deep blue eyes until she gives in.

"Fine," She huffs, surrendering. "I'll text you before I come over."

"And if I'm not at home?" Chase asks, raising a brow. Though by the tone of his voice, he's insinuating that Darling already knows the correct answer.

And she does, because she says, "Then I won't come over."

That seemed acceptable. He nods.

Darling asks after a moment, "I don't understand why you're so hung up over my presence?"

"My neighbours think that we're in a relationship." Chase answers, his mouth feeling dry. "You come and leave while wearing your pyjamas. It gives the idea that you've slept over and at least keep some of your belonging here. Do you know how much of a gossip Mrs Jester is? Especially after her daughter, Courtly, saw you hanging out in my house a couple of times. Mrs Jester knows my mom, I don't want her getting a heart attack from some false gossip that I'm having a secret relationship."

"My neighbours think I'm dead." Darling replies in an 'oh well' voice. "It was sure a huge surprise when they saw me up and about after getting sent to boarding school for five years. Actually, they might still think I'm dead sometimes. There were times when the police have come over to check if I'm alive but since I'm never home, they may as well declare me dead too. Funny how the world works."

Chase only stares. He didn't know how to respond to that. "If you're going to be in my house, just avoid the windows or being seen."

"Then can I hang at your work place?" Darling asks, her light blue eyes flutter. She's pulling cards under her sleeves. And it's not even the hidden kind. Chase knows how Darling's playing this game.

In response, Chase taps on his crossed arms again.

"Please?" Darling pleads.

"Work is for work,"

"Please?" Darling says again. "And what's better than two heads than one?"

"Darling…" His voice strained, but he had to admit … she was good at this whole persuading thing.

"Come on, Chase, you know how useful I can be. I'll be an asset to your work. Besides, you can't possibly expect to test all those bikes by yourself." Darling nudges, blinking her eyelashes for effect.

Chase pauses in return, "Wait, you've been looking at my work documents?"

"Well, I have nothing else to do when you're asleep. Besides, I've noticed that you've had more bikes lately and a lot of new deadlines."

Chase responses by openly groaning in front of Darling before walking away to savour some alone time in the kitchen.


I'm OTW to your house! Darling texts him. She was keeping to her agreement, no more unannounced visits.

Get some toilet paper! Chase replies like it's nothing.

A humorous grin stretches on Darling's face in return. She sends Chase an okay hand emoji.

Darling's phone chimes five seconds later. Chase asks, Wait, when you said you were OTW, does that mean you're driving over now while texting me? Don't text and driving, it's a violation of traffic laws! You could get the White Knight confiscated! Even when he texted, Chase Redford had a stick up his butt.

Well someone's grouchy lol. Darling replies with three laughing emojis. Did someone not have their morning coffee?

No, because you finished all the milk! Chase replies then double texts, Get milk too with an added please not even two seconds later.

Okie dokie, hun! Darling answers jokingly. The White Knight is on her way!

Gonna be late! Came a text twenty minutes later.

Chase lazily replies, eyes half concentrating on the TV and half on his texting, What? Why?

Police are on my tail! I went over the speed limit! Darling explains. She even had the audacity to add a lmao to the end of her sentence.

At this, Chase swears his heart almost dropped to his stomach. His reply is a flurry of spelling mistakes and clumsy words, Don't lead them to my house! Seriously, he's never gotten a parking ticket in his life and today will not be the day he breaks the rules to deal with the police!

But I'm already on your street! Darling answers. How she's texting Chase back while running away from the police remains a mystery to him.

Darling! He exclaims in his text and openly in his living room.

No, it's okay, I'll park on Mrs Jester's driveway! Darling reasons.

Chase sighs as he rubs his tired eyes in response. What is he going to do with this girl?

Chapter Text

the sleepless elite


chapter nine


 


One day you were smiling,
I could tell by how you sounded on the phone,
Yes, I'm coming home, babe

– Vance JoyCall If You Need Me


"Will you settle down?" Chase Redford asks without taking his eyes off his book, body lain down on his couch with his too long legs sticking out.

Darling Charming doesn't stop pacing, silver heels constantly making those clicking sounds. However, she does spin around, making her hair cascade down shoulders. She pulls a face at him – all pouty lips and squeezed eyebrows. Though, it doesn't last long because soon she's filled with giddy excitement again.

"No." Is the one word response she gives him before she does a small jump that tells Chase she's bouncing with energy.

"At least sit down for a bit and drink the hot chocolate I made you," Chase says, still not lifting his face away from his book.

Darling responses, "I can't."

"Can't what? Sit down or drink?" Chase questions, it's a legit question.

Chase thinks, Darling's wasting a lot of energy walking to and fro. It's Winter and everything is starting to feel lethargic. The best thing the young Charming can do is conserve all that budding energy and drink something that would warm her up.

"Both," Darling answers. "You know that feeling before a test when you feels sick, like you can't stomach anything but also wants to get said test over with? I feel like that." She clicks her heels some more then looks at Chase as if to challenge him to entertain her and do something.

He doesn't even need to look at her to know what she wants. Darling's giving off too strong of that vibe.

If Chase had reading glasses on, he would have taken them off and given Darling a well-meaning look. But he doesn't own any reading glasses so, instead, he just rolls his eyes. This girl will be the death of him someday.

"Why aren't you waiting at home, anyway?" Chase asks as he tucks his bookmark between his pages. With Darling being here, he's never going to finish his book, it would be likely he'll read the same paragraph again and again.

"Because Father and Mother will get annoyed." Darling reasons.

Chase answers like he knows her parents when he hasn't even met them. "No, they won't."

"You're getting annoyed that I'm here." Darling speaks the truth.

"Only a little." He says truthfully too.

She then hops on his legs just to prove a point that she is. Also because there's no space on the couch for her to sit. And in return, Chase makes a small grunt at her weight. Darling's not crushing him with her weight but she is sitting on his legs.

He tells her, "If I were you, I'd just wait at home. Your brothers are coming back after being months away and I'd expect you'd be the first face they'd want to see. At least, with the way you're talking about them, it seems like you miss them a lot and the feeling's mutual." – It's finally Christmas break, meaning Darling gets to see her brothers come back from their respective colleges. Both Daring and Dexter had agreed to come back on today's date.

"I'd rather be here." Darling answers and blinks her long lashes all innocently when Chase smacks her arm, a cue to her to get off. She doesn't though. Their friendship has grown a lot since the Summer they met.

Chase scoffs and continues bugging her with his book, poking her sides while she swats his attempts. "You couldn't have hung out with your friend? What was her name again? Madeline?"

"Oh, Maddie?" Darling says airily and settles more comfortably on Chase's legs. "I wouldn't want to bother her when she's busy serving customers at the tea shop."

"But you're okay with bothering me?"

"You're not at work now, so …" Darling trails off playfully. "Besides, I want to hang out with you."

"And my bikes," Chase says, seeing through her.

"And your bikes." Darling agrees then asks, "Can you hand me my cup?" – Yes, she bought herself her own cup to leave at Chase's house since she's always visiting. It was blue and silver and decorated with stars.

"No, get it yourself. I already made it for you."

"Why you –"

Darling's phone rings the exact moment, killing the threat in her throat. She picks it up without checking the caller ID and is instantly greeted with her brother's voice, "Hey, Darling!"

"Dex!" Darling answers back and hops off Chase's dying legs. "Where are you? Are you home yet?"

"Close," Dexter answers with a chuckle. "I'm five minutes away but I just wanted to tell you. Dare says he's at least half an hour away. Well, the last I heard anyway, he might have stopped by to see Rosabella or something," Darling swears she can practically picture Dexter rolling his blue eyes as the words left his mouth.

"Perfect!" Darling squeals, looking around Chase's living room to make sure she didn't leave anything there. Not that it mattered, anyway, she could always come back to get it. She remembers leaving her phone there once for a whole day and not realising it. Darling pats the pockets of her jeans to make sure she has her keys. "I'll be there in ten minutes!" Or maybe faster, who knows? Darling likes the thrill of speeding too much.

"Ten minutes? You're not at home?" Dexter quips. This time, it's his turn to ask, "Where are you?"

"At a friend's house." Darling replies and watches Chase sit right-side up and stretch.

"Oookay then?" Dexter answers, a suspicious tone behind his voice.

"See you in ten!" Is all Darling says, not catching her twin's tone. She's too excited to care. She hasn't seen her brothers in four months! Then she ends the call and turns back to Chase. "I'll see you … about three weeks?"

"Three weeks?" Chase pulls a face, mid-yawn.

"Yeah, I want to spend as much time with my brothers as possible." Darling reasons, slipping on her Winter coat and zipping herself up against the biting chill.

Chase only hums in response. He wishes he can say he understands but he's an only child so he technically doesn't. He is used to being alone though. And after graduating, he's been living the bachelor life (well, sorta, before Darling crashed his crib).

"See you in three weeks then." He says and picks up Darling's cup to drink and empty the hot chocolate. There's no point wasting food (Did people even fuss about wasting drinks? Or did they just cry over spilled milk?).

"It might be sooner." Darling says, one hand already on the doorknob. "But, yeah, see you, Chase! Take care while I'm gone, Merry Christmas!" Then she waves and lets herself out with the click of the front door.

"Merry Christmas to you too." Chase calls and waits by the window long enough to see Darling slip on her helmet and drive away on her White Knight.


Once again, Darling hugs her brothers. Once again, her arms are wrapped around their shoulders, her hands bunch up the back of their shirts. She's holding them tight, but this time, she knows she doesn't have to let go.

(Or, at least, that was what it looked like)

The same day her brothers drove back from college, Darling opted for the Charming siblings to sit down and watch a movie together after dinner. The boys are obviously jet-lagged but they can't possibly say 'no' to their baby sister when she's giving them that puppy dog look.

Darling convinces Daring to pamper their skin with face masks for the first twenty minutes of the movie while Dexter chooses to sit it out. Darling knows Dexter has her back most of the time, but there are instances when Darling thinks she and Daring see more eye to eye. They just had so much in common.

"From this angle, don't you think it looks like Dexter has a double chin?"

All Daring hears is his sister holding back a giggle in response before she snaps a picture.

"Devil woman," He teases her for taking an unflattering picture.

And Darling only snorts some more.

"Should we wake him up?" Daring asks as soon as they've removed their face masks and massaged the remaining essences into their skin.

"No, let him sleep." Darling says though the look in her blue eyes tells Daring there's an intention behind this choice. She tells him, "I have a better idea."

"Is it drawing on his face?" Daring guesses. Sometimes, he can read Darling's mind easily and understand her within a snap of a finger. It's something Daring is glad he can do, he's grateful that he finally patched up that hole in their siblinghood after the prom incident.

"Yup," Darling muses.

A playful grin spreads on Daring's face. "Dibs on Dex's forehead."

Daring falls asleep not even an hour later and Darling uses a near-by Nerf gun to turn off the lights and attempts curl up on the same bed without stealing too much of the blanket.

.

.

.

"I hate you both." Dexter says, squinting at his blonde siblings the morning he wakes up, still exhausted and face covered with inappropriate squiggles. He thought he had left that all behind when he drove away from college but it looks like he was wrong.

"You don't mean that," Darling says, blinking her lashes innocently as he had with Chase less than twenty-four hours ago.

"Look on the bright side," Daring says, flashing one of his picture perfect smiles.

"Oh God, you didn't send a picture to Raven, did you?" Dexter panics.

"No," Darling shakes her head then whispers to Daring, "Though we should have."

"What's the bright side?" Dexter asks, still squinting.

"It didn't happen to us." Daring replies and Darling high-fives him in return. They're both too criminally blonde.

"I hate you." Dexter repeats. But, of course, Dexter doesn't.

Chapter Text

the sleepless elite


chapter ten


 


Oh, lady running down to the riptide,
Taken away to the dark side.

– Vance Joy, Riptide


Day One of her brothers, Daring and Dexter, returning was spent having a lovely family reunion followed by a movie that was never finished. So Day Two started with a conversation sparked between the blonde Charmings.

"Who are you texting?" Darling asks the same afternoon Dexter 'declared' he hated his siblings.

She nudges Daring with her foot, the two are all dressed up for a family outing, waiting on the sofa. Their parents are still getting ready while Dexter's still in the shower, trying to scrub away the permanent marker both Daring and Darling had written on his face.

"Briar." Daring answers and swats his sister's foot away. He's a little moody now, having spent the morning doing chores for his mother for some reason.

"Beauty?"

Daring nods his head, "Yeah."

Darling asks cheekily, "Are you sure it's not Rosabella Beauty?"

"I have a life and friends, you know?" Daring frowns, blush on his cheeks, tired eyebags still visible. Business school has tired him out.

"Since when?"

Daring makes a face. That was a low blow. He knows Darling was just joking around, but still. "Senior year. College." Daring answers gruffly, unlike himself, unlike his shiny self.

"I think you're cranky." Darling says and hopes it's true.

"And you're being kind of annoying." Daring says, feeling his old spite for Darling flaring up a little. He guesses one Summer isn't enough to patch up the feelings he's felt for Darling since he was (arguably) ten.

Daring rubs his face and sighs. Maybe Darling's right. Maybe he's just cranky The jet-lag is still recent, he's still tired, he's still –

.

.

.

"Daring?!" A voice calls, feminine and older, sounding far away.

"Yes, Mother?!" Daring yells back, though Darling heard it more as a groan. He's seated between the twins as Dexter is once again passed out while Darling's scrolling through her phone.

"Come down here and help me set the table," Mrs Charming continues.

Daring feels the ache in his shoulders and a lethargic feeling sinking into his bones. He answers, "I can't!"

"What was that?!" Mrs Charming asks and Daring couldn't tell if she had sincerely heard it or not.

"Why can't Darling do it?" Daring asks, going so far as to turn and watch his sister's reaction as he says things. Darling who's always the favourite, Darling who got a year off while he didn't.

"Don't be ridiculous!" Mrs Charming calls. "How can you even ask such a thing?!"

A bittersweet smile stretches on Daring's face. He can't catch a break, can he? Not even after –

"Coming!" He calls back as he steps away from his bed.


On Day Three, Darling lets out a gasp.

"Oh!" Darling's eyes immediately fly to her twin brother's cowlick hair; his styled fringe is bleached and dyed a faded blue that almost looks green. She says to him, "You dyed your hair! We match!" She emphasises to her own dyed blue streak. Hers was more visible since her hair was lighter, and also because she has more free time on her hands so she can afford to waste time to touch up her dyed streaks.

Dexter blinks in response as if he hasn't registered that he and his twin match. Which is funny because they used to wear matching Banana in Pyjamas pyjamas. He says after realising the statement is true, "Oh, yeah, I let Raven dye it. She was bored, I guess she got used to dyeing Maddie's hair and has extra blue dye?"

"Why didn't you tell me?"

Dexter blinks again, "Should I have?" – And suddenly Darling realises how big of a gap there is between her and Dexter.


On Day Four, bright and early, it occurs to Darling how she doesn't have as much time as she wishes.

"So what are we doing today?" Darling asks as she cuts into her bird's nest and eats a bite.

Dexter only blinks in response, "We? Didn't Dare tell you?"

Darling only raises a brow in response. "Well, he hasn't exactly gotten off his phone since Day Two of being back in Book End."

Okay, fair enough. Dexter says, "Dare and I are going to the local library to write our essays. Dare's meeting Briar for their business essay." Wow, Daring and Briar have really gotten along since high school. "Wanna tag along?"

"And do what?" Darling asks.

Dexter shrugs as he takes a gulp of orange juice. "Read something? Chill?"

"I'll die of boredom in there."


On Day Five, Darling feels troubled.

Where are you? It's three AM. Darling texts both her brothers. She sits in her room, not knowing what to do but wait. She knows her brothers are grown but she can't help but feel worried. She waits until five AM before falling asleep.

The next morning, she gets two texts. Dexter's says, Sorry. We're used to pulling all-nighters so we stayed in the library. While Daring's read Dex, Briar and I fell asleep. I think we got locked in but I don't think anybody noticed we were stuck?

Wow. Is Briar's need for sleep contagious?


On Day Six, Darling sits and waits and spends her time at the Wonderland Haberdashery and Tea Shoppe. Free of charge, by courtesy of Maddie, Darling drinks hot tea and tries new flavours of pie. Darling spends hours there, but, hey, it's better than being alone at home.


 On Day Seven, Darling waits, her parents go off to work like normal and the boys come back at seven PM but retire early.

.

.

.

On Day Eight, Darling waits again and the boys pulls another all-nighter.

.

.

.

On Day Nine, Darling waits some more. No one is at home but her.

.

.

.

So Darling waits. She waits and she waits and she waits as the days and precious time passes by until she thinks she's had enough.

Chapter Text

the sleepless elite


chapter eleven


 


I'm thinking 'bout coming home, babe

– Vance JoyCall If You Need Me


"It's complicated." Is what Daring says to deflect the argument but it just feels like it set things off. Just a week ago, things were so simple. The reunion wasn't so …

.

.

.

A part of Darling Charming felt like she was cursed to have had things happen to her. Actually, she thinks the whole Charming family is cursed.

A few months ago, her oldest brother, Daring voiced the same thing about being down on luck. He had an identity crisis, not knowing who he was without his popularity and his status as the best person in high school. But then Rosabella Beauty rescued him (rescued him) and now he's better.

So Darling wonders if she really is a damsel in distress, waiting all her life, in need of someone to rescue her. She remembers being five years old and having Dexter promise he'll have her back. However, now that he's busy being in love with Raven Queen, it's hard to picture her brother being princely and coming to her aid.


"Are you going to the library again?" Darling asks, dressed in her pyjamas, as she catches her brothers leaving the house with their backpacks.

"Yeah," Dexter offers a sad smile.

Darling then turns and waits for Daring's reply but none comes. She watches Daring busy himself by texting someone on his phone. Five bucks on who it could be. Even when Daring's here, he isn't. An annoyed feeling nipped in her stomach, Darling feels like Daring hasn't gone off his phone since he got back home.

Dexter says, "I'm sorry, Darling. But, you know how it is with assignments."

Darling doesn't.

Long story short, Christmas break wasn't exactly a 'break' at all. It was just a lie, they had essays due in January. It was troublesome and the Charming boys would like to get it out of the way before procrastination gripped them and gave them the illusion that they had all the time in the world. They couldn't let their grades slip.

However, Darling was tired of waiting. She was sick of it. She was sick and tired of waiting for her brothers to return from the library only to call in an early night, she was sick and tired of her parents leaving soon after for work, she was sick and tired of being alone in the big house.

"Will you be back soon? It won't be long, will it?" Darling asks.

It's been a whole week since her brothers have stopped spending time with her. The first day the boys came home, it was spent jet-lagged after the home movie, the second day was spent with the whole family – having an outing at the mall and eating as a family, the third was spend just resting since the boys still felt tired. But then the fourth day was when the Charming family dispersed with Daring and Dexter heading off to write their essays at the library and, Mr and Mrs Charming heading off to work again.

Seven full days were spent doing other activities which didn't involve Darling. Seven days where there was an implication that Darling could be involvement by the skin of their teeth, "Maybe later", "Not now", "Just wait a little", making her wait for someone to come to her.

It was understandable that Darling was getting frustrated. She's spent four months being left alone. Four months. Isn't that enough waiting around?

"I sure hope not." Dexter answers, which translate to 'maybe'. "Dare and I are almost done."

Darling perks up at this. "Really? So can we have another movie night?"

"Maybe?" Dexter answers. His blue eyes snap to Daring who's still fiddling with his phone. "Dare, are you up for a movie tonight?"

"Tonight?" Daring asks, not looking up from his phone as his fingers flew across the screen. "I'm still four hundred words short and I haven't cited my references yet."

"It could be tomorrow if you're feeling tired." Darling says, willing to do anything as long as she spends time with the two.

"Um, actually …" Daring's face flushes pink. "I was thinking … of visiting the Beautys once I'm done with my essay."

"Rosabella?" Darling asks while Dexter stays silent.

"And Briar," Daring defends himself. "It's – It's not just to see my girlfriend. Briar and I – we – we do go to the same Business school, I just wanted to make sure … you know, that my essay is on point and if we have the same referencing." Daring says, tripping over his words. He seems oddly guilty. Did he plan all this beforehand?

"Well, if it's just to drop by for a visit, I don't mind waiting –"

"Um, actually." Daring doesn't seem as outspoken as his old high school self, now being a little more carefully. Like he knows how his words work. "Actually, I'm staying there for a whole week."

"A whole week?"

"Briar and I talked about it," Daring says. He's caught red-handed, he did plan this.

"Do you … not want to spend time with the family?"

Daring opens and closes his mouth, not knowing what to say. He isn't sure if the twins have known that he and Mother have never seen eye to eye and that he thinks Father expects too much of him. "It's … It's not like that. I do want to spend time with you."

"But not Father and Mother?" Darling asks, feeling like challenging her oldest brother. She knows their parents tend to put a lot on their shoulders, well, at least the boys more than hers. But to say … But to say Daring doesn't want to spend time with their parents, their family.

"… I don't know." Is all Daring answers. "It's complicated."

Darling reads her brother like an open book. Sometimes, she thinks it's bad that they're so alike. "Are the Beautys your new family now, Dare?"

"Is it wrong that I like them better?" Daring challenges back, now red with anger. Is this a fight? Because it sounds like it's becoming a fight. "I'm going outside to start the car." Daring snaps before Darling can say anything more and stomps off. He's done this tactic before when he used to fight with Dexter over the smallest things and he'll do it again if it meant avoiding an argument before it blows up.

Dexter clenches his teeth at the unexpected heat thrown back and forth between his siblings. He knows Darling has been restless since the Summer, he knows she wants to do things. But to feel this much … it was …

"Are you coming, Dex?" Daring asks before he's out the door.

There's a pause as Dexter looks between Daring and Darling. He hesitates and says, "In a moment."

Daring doesn't add anything after that, he just takes a shaky breath in and huffs then walks outside.

Dexter starts, "… Darling –"

"Are you going to spend time away from the family too, Dex?" Darling asks Dexter, suddenly ripping her attention to her twin.

Dexter's face twists like he's just swallowed an entire lemon. Dexter's always been the kind to take his time; observe and calculate then speak publicly. He tries to word his words carefully, "I have another essay to write. So I'll likely spend another week being busy. I do have a date with Raven, and I want to see my friends, Humphrey and the IT guys from high school, once I'm done with my work. But I'm not …"

Darling was right, the family is cursed.

"I'm not going to just leave you. I'm just busy." Dexter's shoulders drop as he finishes his words.

"So, you'll spend another week doing your essay, a day with Raven, a few more days with your friends. By the time you're done doing all that, you'll be back in college. You won't have any time for me." Darling knows she's sounding like a brat. She knows she can be coddled and babied too much. But is it so bad to want to spend time with her brothers? Is it so wrong?

Dexter's brows pluck with uncertainty. "I'm sorry. I'll make time."

"Will you?" Darling asks and means it. "Because it doesn't feel like it."

And all Dexter can think about is the same lame apology with no explanation, "I'm sorry."

"Forget it." Darling huffs. "Forget the movie. Just –" She grips onto the hem of her pyjama shirt, bunching up fabric and causing wrinkles. "Just go."

Knowing he can't win the fight, Dexter turns away, hands clutching onto his backpack straps. He feels incredibly guilty, but before he leaves, he asks, "Will you be home when I get back?"

Darling has her back turned, already making her way back to her room to get something – the keys to her motorcycle. "No, I'm tired of waiting."

.

.

.

"Darling?" Dexter calls hours later after their essays are done and submitted.

Their parents aren't home from work yet and it's early in the evening when the boys return. Darling's room is dark as Daring and Dexter stand at the mouth of her open door bedroom.

"We're back," Dexter continues in a gentle voice and elbows Daring in the ribs to say something.

"… Hey," Daring speaks and doesn't get a reply. Siblings are weird, sometimes you don't even need to apologise. Sometimes you just pop your head into their rooms and ask if they wanna chill to make up for the argument.

"Do you still want to see that movie?" Dexter asks into the darkness. "We won't flake out on you anymore." But one look from Daring and Dexter corrects himself, "Well, for a couple of days. You know, reasonably speaking but …"

Daring flicks of the lights of Darling's room and is greeted with an empty bed. Daring's own blue eyes grow wide as he whips his head and scans the blue themed bedroom from head to toe.

"Darling?!" Dexter gasps and takes three steps into the room then spins his heel and shakes his brother's shoulders. "Dare, where's Darling?!"

"How am I supposed to know? You're the last person to talk to her!" Daring answers but he's just as worried. God, did she run away or something after he said all those mean words to her?

"She said she wouldn't be home when I asked her but I didn't think – I thought she was just being dramatic!"

"So where is she?!"

Chapter Text

the sleepless elite


chapter twelve


 


You remind me just how good it can get

– Vance JoyI'm With You


She's speeding. Speeding speeding speeding so the tears don't leak and blur her vision.

.

.

.

"Chase!"

Chase Redford cracks his blue eyes open slowly, gurgling gibberish words and groaning at the orange light the setting sun has cast.

"Chase!"

"… Wha –?"

"Chase, let me in! I'm freezing my butt off here!"

"… Darling?" Chase mutters, blinking his eyes as he takes in his surroundings. He's fallen asleep on his living room couch again, long legs poking out.

"I texted you." Darling Charming speaks between the front door, keeping her promise of giving Chase a head's up when she visits. "You didn't reply." Then she says rather sheepishly, "But I knew you'd be home so I came anyway. I'm sorry."

Chase sits up, still sleepy, trying to register everything. "It's okay." He fades out for a second, trying to get his bearings right. "Um … is my … is my concept of time that bad? Has it been three weeks already?"

"No," Darling replies as she's shivering outside, pulling her Winter coat closer around her body. "It's only been a week plus." – Ten days to be exact.

"What? Did you miss me?" Chase teases with a yawn and unlocks his front door for Darling to step in.

"No, my brothers are busy with their assignments so I'm bored." Darling replies, it's half a truth and half a lie. She says this all while turning her head in a way so Chase doesn't see her full face.

"Ouch, you hurt my heart." Chase laughs, not sensing anything out of the ordinary as he closes the door and Darling takes off her coat, revealing her pyjamas underneath.

Feeling sensitive to her words, really sensitive, Darling picks her next delivery carefully. She doesn't want to spark a fight with Chase. She says, "I'm kidding."

"I know you are." Chase answers. "You'd never intentionally hurt me. Besides, I'm a big boy, tough and stuff, words don't hurt me."

"Sure," Darling snorts, the feeling of disappointment in her chest already fading. Going to Chase's place was a good decision. She smiles at him. "May I have some hot chocolate? I promise I'll drink it this time."

"Sure," Chase smiles and the house instantly feels warmer.


Darling comes back the next day, still crossed with her brothers though she doesn't say a word of that to Chase. Instead, Darling asks as she touches faded bleached hair, "Hey, Chase, can I dye your hair? I noticed you haven't done any touch ups since last Summer."

Chase hums, low and deep as he thinks. "I mean, I never thought I needed to, but you can if you want." He sticks out his index finger, telling her there was a condition. "But only if it's red. No other funky colours."

Darling's blue eyes sparkles. She gives Chase a warm smile and presses down her squeal as she exclaims, "Deal!"


Really, Chase should have suspected it but there was no reason for him to suspect otherwise so he doesn't catch on until much later.

"Look, I'm not going to disagree on you that ABBA is a great singer but why are we watching Mamma Mia! again?" Chase asks after he and Darling had sat down on his couch and watched the movie through a pirated website. It's the third day she's spent at his house, consistent.

"Don't speak or you'll ruin your face mask." Darling merely says and plopped her feet on his lap, trapping Chase on the couch, silver heels dangling off her feet.

"Why am I even wearing a face mask?" Chase talks regardless as the movie opens up with Amanda Seyfried singing 'I Have A Dream'.

Darling reasons, smoothening out her face mask. "You get rid of your eyebags. I'm helping you, that's what friends do."

"If you say so –"

"Just shush for like twenty minutes, okay?" Darling silences him by touching Chase's lips with her fingertips before he can say another word.


"Wakey-wakey, no eggs and bakey." A voice hums as Chase feels his shoulder jabbed by a pointed finger.

Wait, what?

"So Chase, so I've been Googling around and exploring Google Maps, looking at your area." Darling says, shoving her phone in Chase's sleepy face. "And it got me thinking,"

Chase stares confused, his eyes dazed from suddenly being woken up from a nap. He doesn't even know what day it is. Has it been five days since Darling has come over to his place?

He mutters back her words, unable to piece things together, "Thinking? Darling … what?"

"Let's go get some fresh air!"

"What about breakfast?"

"We'll get some McDonalds on the way." Is all Darling replies before she pulls Chase's blanket off of him.

.

.

.

"We're going to die! Oh my God, I am going to die –"

"Don't let go, Chase!"

"Oh my God! Are we going faster?! Why are we spinning faster?!"

"Live a little!" Darling laughs then repeats herself. "Just don't let go!"

"Why would I want to let go?! I'd fall!" Chase yells back at her.

"Stop screaming!"

"You're screaming too!"

Chase cannot believe the situation he's in. He can't believe it! He is a twenty-one year old man for goodness sakes! He can't believe he's hanging out at a playground, in Winter, dangerously teetering to death's door due to a kiddy ride that's threatening his life!

He feels almost disgusted if this was to be his demise!

"Why are you doing this to me, Darling Charming?!" Chase yells. There was so much screaming.

"I don't know! I just like hanging out with you!" Darling answers, throwing back her head and telling her laugh contently – And this time, they were away from his bikes.

.

.

.

"Oh, hi, Mrs Jester … Just getting some fresh air." Chase mutters dizzily. Twenty-one years old, caught staggering to the nearest bench to rest in a children's playground, and greeting his judgemental elderly neighbour who just so happens to know his mom – oh yes, this is turning out to be such a 'highlight' in Chase Redford's life.


By the time Darling had spent an entire week around Chase, whether it was at his home, at his work place or after work, Chase was starting to question himself and all the time Darling had.

He's done some questionable stuff for the past few days. Like play at the playground and that time they Googled the Teletubbies reboot for Darling's curiosity and debating about who's the parents of which Tiddly Tubbie.

"The Wikipedia page isn't saying anything so technically, we can ship any Teletubbie with whichever Teletubbie we want." Darling says after Chase confirms the internet had no resources on the news.

Chase makes a face. "Why would we ship the Teletubbies?"

"For fun," – Lord, help him!


Time was up, three weeks has passed in a blink of an eye and Christmas break will be over soon.

"Where's Darling?"

"I don't know, dear. I never do. You know how spontaneous she is and, you know how your father and I are never at home."

Dexter knows Darling like the back of his hand, she is his sister, she is his other half, his opposite, his twin. Unfortunately, he didn't (couldn't) have the luxury of spending every moment with his sister but he wants to be there for her in her hardest time.

So one afternoon when his father is working and Daring is at the Beauty's again and Darling is out somewhere, Dexter sits down away from his laptop and assignment and mountain of reference books. He sits in the living room with his mother, with the TV as background noise and a pot of tea cooling. Conversation starts and it isn't pleasant.

"All this time, while Dare and I were away, did you leave Darling alone?" Dexter asks, feeling a sinking drop in his stomach for not noticing first, for regulating his college life over his life at home.

Mrs Charming looks at her son in the eyes, blue eyes filling with too much emotion to bear. If eyes are windows to the soul then Dexter's eyes are a glass house that showed everything; from the pretty polish indoor pool to the mess flooding the bathroom, blue like ocean eyes, completely exposed.

"Not completely alone," Is all Mrs Charming can say. She loves her daughter but even she is grown used to having Darling away at boarding school so to have her here all the time, well, she doesn't know what to do with Darling. The older woman says, "She always leaves a note, saying she'd be with her friends."

"Which friends?" Dexter asks again.

Mrs Charming's face twists in confusion. "You should know them, isn't she the captain of your little group? The nap team?"

"The sleepless elite," Dexter corrects.

"Yes, well, I assume she must be with them then."

"You never checked?"

"Should I? Boarding school should have taught her mannerisms of a lady, or at least some of it." Mrs Charming takes a sip of her tea and remembers how obsessed her daughter is with motorbikes and adventure. "As long as she's not reckless and comes home, should I be fretting over her every move? She is the youngest but I think we've babied her enough, Dexterous."

"So she hasn't done anything except hang out with her friends?"

"I suppose?"

And the conversation feels awfully trailed off, like they didn't know Darling at all.

But a part of Dexter knows Darling hates waiting, waiting like some Damsel in a tower, so the fact that Darling is still in Book End instead of doing something blood pumping like sky diving or snorkelling or travelling Europe is beyond weird.

"So Darling hasn't found herself at all?" Dexter asks, he feels like he's done nothing but ask throughout this entire conversation. Why is he even asking his mother instead of having his own twin tell him these things?

Mrs Charming blinks in a way that tells Dexter she wants to look away. "No. No, she hasn't."

"It's been –" Dexter does the quick Math in his brain. "– four months. She's wasted four months doing nothing. Seven if you count last Summer. Darling's had all this time to think of what she might want to do and try it but she hasn't even done that."

Then Dexter gets off the couch, spins around and paces with worry. This is not the Darling he knows. The Darling he knows loves excitement and putting herself out there to do thrilling activities that's a rush. Not sitting around, not waiting for something. Was Dexter so blind to see that Senior prom had really hurt Darling to the point where she was scared to try anything new?

"What are you implying?" His mother asks.

"I'm implying something for Darling to do if her year is up and if she doesn't find herself in time." Dexter answers, his pacing stops and he stands in front of the coffee table, not knowing whether to sit or stand.

"If her year is up then she'll go to college like you and Daring." His mother says.

Dexter only shakes his head. If anyone thought boarding school was constricting then college is even more so. Sometimes he don't even have time to cry because of all the work and deadlines. He says, "I want a year off,"

Mrs Charming frowns, putting her cup down. "You can't take a year off without a reasonable explanation, the educational board won't accept it. That's not how college works. You should have asked for a year off before you went off." If this was a rebellion, it was oddly late.

Dexter shakes his head again, "It's not for me,"

Mrs Charming picks her cup back up just to do something. She is confused by her son's words.

"It's for Darling." Dexter explains.

"She's already asked for a year off." His mother replies.

"And I haven't until now so I'm giving her mine."

His mother snaps. Actually snaps. And a lady should never snap. "That's not how things work." – Well, it does in movies – "Dexterous, Darling has another eight months to find herself."

"But what if that's not enough, Mother? What if she doesn't find herself by the time the deadline is up? What if she still hasn't done anything?"

So many 'what ifs'.

"What do you want me to do?" Mrs Charming asks this time. "We can't baby her forever, we can't let her always have her way."

Dexter thinks, using that big brain of his. "Just – Just give her a little bit more time."

"How much more time?" Mrs Charming sighs. They can afford to spend money but wasting time is ... waiting is ...

"She's wasted four months so far, right? So give her another four months to decide on something. If she finally does then let her pursue it. Give her my year off to see if she likes it or not." Dexter says, finally taking his seat and thumbing the side of his cup, his now cold tea. "But if she hasn't found anything by the time her year off is done, then ... send her off to college."

Mrs Charming looks at her son again. Those ocean eyes of his, deep enough to drown her in it. Charmings' have always had has the ability to persuade and charm others. "I can't guarantee I'll like the decision she chooses, I can't guarantee I'll let her keep it." She sips her tea, thinking, "But I'll give it a shot."

"Thank you, Mother."

Mrs Charming reaches out and holds her son's hand. "I hope this decision won't disappoint the others."

Chapter Text

the sleepless elite


chapter thirteen


 


"Hi!" She greets enthusiastically at one of Chase Redford's co-workers, flashing a charming smile.

"Hey!" He says to her, dark eyes twinkling with amusement, friendly looking and somewhat mischievous. He doesn't stop walking though, and his clothes as stained with grease as he has this brief window of time to talk to her, before he says, "Good-bye!"

"Leaving so soon?"

"I have a few errands to run."

"Okay, see you later then!" Darling Charming calls as soon as he passes by her on the way out of Chase warehouse. She would have waved at him if not for the fact that her hands were occupied with her helmet and packed lunch.

He gives her a salute then goes off on his merry way.

Darling doesn't exactly remember his name, she's nicknamed him 'Bagel Guy' for obvious reasons, but he's been stopping by Chase's warehouse an awful lot. Honestly, Darling thinks Bagel Guy has just been coming around to geek out on motorcycle facts with her and Chase and, eat free leftover bagels.

"I like Bagel Guy, he seems cool." Darling says as she walks towards Chase with her helmet tucked under her arm.

Chase points out, wiping grease from his hands. "Just last week you thought he was mad for liking Math."

"Liking Math is maddening! How can you not think Bagel Guy isn't mad?"

"He has a name, Darling. You can't keep calling him 'Bagel Guy' forever." Chase remark, the sternness in a voice that makes Darling roll her eyes.

"Bagel guy –" Darling speaks as she places her helmet on the floor by an organized worktable.

"His name is Ace Spades." Chase corrects, moving in a way to he up a clean spot for them to eat lunch and chat. It's been almost clockwork since Chase had allowed Darling to spend time here many months ago.

"Really? Sounds fancy." Darling replies, juggling the lunch,

"Coming from a person named 'Darling Charming'?" Chase teases.

Ace Spades, the co-worker who told Chase the science of Darling's flirting lies in cream-cheese bagels, likes to drop by Chase's warehouse to geek out and swap information about the latest motorcycles with Darling while stealing some left-over food.

"Anyway, before you interrupted me." Darling says and then tossed Chase sandwiches packed in a brown paper bag. "Why did Ace come over and not stay?"

"Oh," Chase replies, pulling up a chair for her to sit like a gentleman. She utters a soft 'thank you' before he sits across her and unwraps his lunch. "Ace wanted to tell me about a job opportunity."

"A job opportunity?" Darling echoes, her blue eyes shining with interest. She doesn't reach for her food yet, she's too interested in the conversation to invest in anything else.

"Yeah, apparently Ace says I should take it."

"Really, now?"

"Hmm," Chase mutters and chews before talking again. "Apparently the company is giving out opportunities for us to test out bikes –"

Darling interrupts Chase this time like how he had with her earlier, "But you already do that," then she uncaps her thermos just to do something. She should really drink it though, considering it's January and the middle of a very cold Winter.

Chase explains, "Yeah, but, it's different this time. I get to test out the bikes outside of Book End. They want me to test it out while travelling around the world. See how the bikes react according to different climates and surrounding." He then has the audacity to shrug like it's nothing. But Darling's too busy being delighted to be snippy with that.

"They're paying you to travel?" Darling's jaw almost drops.

Chase nods.

"You should take the opportunity." Darling says, reflecting on Ace's words. "What's better than making it a job requirement to travel the world while riding cool bikes?"

Chase bites the inside of his cheek the replies, "Nah, it's not for me. Sounds …" He trails off for a moment to think for the right word, knowing Darling would tease him, but then he just says the first thing on his mind, "It honestly sounds dangerous." He clears his throat. "And scary. Way scary."

There's a new aura in the air. This was the kind of news that needed a backstory. Chase doesn't give Darling the benefit of looking him in the face when her curiosity get the best of her, he gets up and goes to wash him hands from the crumbs of the sandwich.

Darling waited for a moment, kicking her feet in a restless kind of way as she sat in her seat. She asks as she stared at his broad back, "Chase?"

"Hm?"

"Is there a reason you're so careful?"

Darling hears Chase chuckle under his breath. He asks her, "You mean besides having a stick up my butt?"

"Yeah," Darling answers, and Chase instantly knew this was a serious conversation. Well, he already knew it would be a serious conversation but not one this serious. He did get up and wash his hand after eating one sandwich.

Chase bites the inside of his cheek again and turns to face Darling. His hands grip the side of the sink as he leans against it. He says to her, "I …" His dark brows pinch together. "I wouldn't want to bother you. It's … a cliché story. Kinda boring, actually."

"I wouldn't mind listening if it bothers you." Darling replies sincerely.

Chase offers a small smile then looks away, back to his hands. "Nah, it's fine. You don't need to know. It's nothing."

And the conversation ends as quickly as it started.


She grabs his wrist gently one day as she lays dressed in her most comfortable clothing, her pyjamas, and he's in his most idle form, reading a novel. They're all cosy on his couch with her practically kicking him off the small space and the heater on full blast and cups of hot chocolate waiting to be drunk.

"Okay, so I have this idea." Darling says almost in a soft manner.

"Uh oh. I don't like the sound of it." Chase replies but she can tell he's joking. They know each other too well. But that doesn't stop her from wanting to snatch the book out of his hands for being so damn cheeky and giving him a good smack him with it.

"You said you don't want to travel, right?" She asks in the same gentle voice.

"Yes …?"

"What if you don't go alone?" Darling asks. "What if you go with me? You know, after I turn eighteen and apply for the job. Almost everyone knows me anyway. Even your boss man knows me. He even told me once – " Darling pauses and fakes a deep voice, "– 'You sure know a lot, young lady. Shame you aren't working with us just yet'. He's practically consenting to me getting the job already so why don't we take it and travel together?"

"Wait, what?" Chase scrunches up his face and closes his book. It's understandable that he's confused. This idea is coming out of nowhere. "You want us to take the job opportunity and travel together?"

"Yes!" Darling squeals and looks starstruck all while saying this one word. "It'll be fun!"

"Me?" Chase parrots, pausing. "You want me to go with you?"

Darling nods, now drawing patterns on her lap.

"Why me?" He asks.

"Well …" Darling continues eyeing anything but Chase. "You make me feel … like I'm at home, like I'm with my brothers. I trust you. You make me feel safe so, I just thought, you know …" She trails off and doesn't exactly know how to continue.

"Ah," Chase says. But by the drop of his voice, Darling knows what's coming next. He sits up straight like he's about to break news, the sad kind. "That's considerate of you of thinking of me that way. But I can't. You know I can't – Actually, you don't know, which is why I can't burden you with my problems if I were ever to say 'yes'."

A sinking feeling drops in her gut. On one hand, Darling understands. On the other hand, she's sadden that Chase is limited because of this burden, this 'obstacle'. She tells him and means it, "It's okay."

"I'm sorry, though."

"It's okay."


"My man, what's up?!"

A thump sound is immediately followed. Chase Redford groans as he scoots from under his work table and rubs the back of his head.

"Ace, you need to stop scaring me." Chase hisses from the new pain, trying not to glare.

"Sorry,"

Due to Darling's influence, Ace and a few of his other co-workers has made it a habit to come over to his warehouse more often; mostly to chat and to eat lunch with him on break time. Chase hasn't exactly been the most social at his workplace, but can you really blame him? Work is work and he likes that he can focus on his job, even if it did feel isolating at times.

But, oddly enough … it's a weird win-win situation. Because not only has Darling brought Chase free food but she's also made Chase go out there and socialise, make friends and memories and what not.

"So, any news?" Ace asks and casually punks himself down on an empty stool.

"About what?" Chase answers.

"I don't know? You? Work?" Then Ace snaps his fingers. "What about Darling? I haven't seen her for a while now."

Chase sighs. "Nothing much with me and work. But Darling has something in mind."

"Oh ho ho. Do tell." Ace says, wagging his eyebrows. He's too nosy for his own good.

"Don't you have bikes to test out?" Chase utters, though there's no hint of any negativity behind his words. He's just too strict about his job.

"Early lunch break." Ace replies which makes Chase glance at his watch, it's not even lunch time yet. Ace continues, "I'm going to continue being a bother until I get some scoop."

"Why are you like this?" He says as he walks over to a familiar sink.

"Because work is slow and boring at times, and I just enjoy being a little shit." Ace answers honestly.

"Okay, fine. Darling says she wants to apply to work here after her eighteenth birthday." Chase replies, running his greasy hands under the tap.

Ace's face twists in confusion. "Wait so you're dating a seventeen year old –"

"We're not dating." Chase cuts in as he flicks water in his friend's face in which Ace let's out a yelp. "Let's just get that straight because I know how old she is." – After all, he did accidentally take her to a bar forever ago (something which Darling won't let down) – "But, the main point is, we're just friends."

"Are you sure?" Ace asks, rubbing his face with the side of his sleeve.

"Positive." Chase sighs, wanting to roll his eyes. "I like being her friend, we have a chill friendship."

"She is super chill and fun." Ace agrees.

"Spontaneous too." Chase says and remembers the many times Darling has popped in and almost given him a heart attack.

"But are you really sure?"

This time, Chase does roll his eyes. But, to be honest, he's not surprised Ace isn't convince. Ace is the guy who said Darling's science of flirting was behind her cream cheese bagels delivery.

"Darling said I reminded her of her brothers so I'm pretty sure." Chase answers.

At this, Ace sputters out a laugh. "She brother-zoned you?"

"… Kinda?" Chase admits but it's not like he had interest in Darling Charming to begin with. He did think she was pretty though, when they first met. Then Chase says, "Anyway," to bring them back to the main point of the topic. "Darling says she wants to work here. She heard about the news you gave me the other day and was interested."

"In traveling or the bikes?"

"Both," Chase answers and wonders if he's saying too much. "She did say she wanted to get out of Book End. She sounded very ambiguous about it, I just don't know why she hasn't done it already." Chase's face then twists into a thinking expression, but he doesn't get to dwell on the thought for long because Ace speaks up and intrudes Chase's train of thought.

"Can she even take the offer being a newbie?"

"I don't know," Chase shrugs. "I'm not interested in the offer. I don't want to see the world."

Ace hums and, bounces his leg up and down madly. "Maybe you should go with her? Accompany her, you know?"

"Funny, that's what she said."

"Did she now?" A wide grin grows on Ace's face as he says this.

Chase narrows his eyes at his friend, "Did you plant that idea in her head?"

Ace gasps, "What makes you think I did it?"

"Man, you really need to stop all this." – Whatever 'this' was – "It's weird."

"You guys are polar opposites, you can't blame me for being curious and trying." Ace laughs. "I don't know, when I see you two together, I just think you guys bring out the best in each other."

"You're delusional." Chase says. Maybe Darling was right, maybe Ace Spades was mad, nutty in the head. Wonderlandians, he'll never understand them!

Ace only shakes his head and explains, "Think about it, my man! Darling's all 'adventurous is out there' and exploration-y while you're all 'take it easy' and home-y. You make her consider things and be careful when she's reckless."

"Gee, any other comparison?" Chase utters dryly.

"You read books all day while I don't think Darling can sit down to finish a chapter." Ace says, not catching the sarcasm.

"That's not true. She's read my books."

"Okay, see, even deep down you do have similar tastes!"

Chase holds up his index finger to stop Ace's nonsense. "I'm going to stop you right there."

At this, Ace lifts his arms in the air to show his sign of surrendering. "Okay, you got me there. I'll leave. But, I'll come back in a few hours, yeah?"

"Must you?" Chase wants to groan.

"Of course, we're friends!" – After all that back and forth, it's hard to see why not.


When February comes, Darling almost knocks Chase over with a hug when she tackles him and excitedly declares, "I got the job!"

Chapter Text

the sleepless elite


chapter fourteen



Tell me you love me, come back and haunt me,
Oh, and I rush to the start,
Running in circles, chasing our tails
Coming back as we are.

– ColdplayThe Scientist


"You don't have to tell me,"

"I want to."

.

.

.

When April comes rolling along, it brings a Summer shower and a surprise thunderstorm.

"Hurry, hurry." Chase Redford ushers Darling Charming into his garage, moving like a man on a mission. "Be careful now," He adds when Darling trips and nearly falls. She catches herself in time but by the imbalance of her feet, she's sure she's broken her heel.

But compared to what they've seen, a broken heel is nothing against Mrs Jester's broken window – which was what drove Chase to usher Darling away to the safety of his garage with sturdy brick walls and a window-free room. So they moved from sitting in the living room to the garage after witnessing a tree branch fly into the Jester's front window, exposing his neighbour to the storm and glass everywhere.

"Chase?" Darling utters, concern as she lifts the lit candle, kicking off her heels and abandoning them in the hall.

"I'm here. I'm fine." He tells her, though something in his voice sounds rehearsed, like someone had once said it to him and now he's relaying it to her. He looked –

"Chase –"

"I'm here." He says again, shouldering whatever he thought they needed into a backpack and closing the door behind him. Chase already had an emergency storage in his garage but he grabbed a few extra things to be safe. If he had a motto, it'd be 'one can never be too careful'.

The garage was cramped with motorbikes and tools everywhere, a beaten-up sofa that Chase slept on when he couldn't be bothered to sleep in his room and his old radio that was constantly stuck on two channels.

When Chase turns away from the closed garage door, he sees Darling standing uncertainly; between his Red Knight and the beaten-up sofa. It's obvious that Darling doesn't know what to do, whether to sit or stand, whether to be alert or relax.

"Shine a candle over that box over there." Chase says and places his backpack by the couch. Darling swears she sees him shaking and she hopes it's just the trick of the light.

The sound of Chase's old radio is static-y and the wild wind outside howls. The massive storm that had hit Book End had caused the sky to turn green with flashing lightning, hard pouring rain and thunder that boomed; frightening and crazy loud. The storm caused power cuts and bits of houses to come lose and for objects to fly into cars and windows. Luckily, Darling and Chase had managed to tell their parents they were okay before they lost cell phone reception.

Chase flips open his emergency storage that had everything from spare candles to canned food and a can opener to a first aid kit and extra blankets along with extra clothes. He even had an electric generator and bottled water lying by the box's side.

"Chase, are you okay?" Darling chews on her bottom lip, Chase has been acting odd since the storm started. He looked scared and it was making Darling anxious.

"Here, sit on the couch." Chase says, not pausing to look at Darling as he guides her and drapes a large blanket over their laps. "We'll be safe."

His words of comfort are short-lived when the wind howled louder and lightning struck, it was booming. Darling guesses that the lightning must have struck a tree just outside the house because it was too loud to be far away, and that's when she realised that Chase was shaking. Shaking bad.

Quickly putting the lit candle away, Darling moved, she was worried. Mirroring the gentle act she had done months prior, Darling holds Chase's wrist and asks, "Chase, are you okay?"

"We're not safe here." Is all Chase utters, turning a 180, blue eyes wide with panic.

"What? Of course, we are, you're always so careful. You planned everything in advance. You'll be fine. We'll be fine." Darling assures.

"Will I?" Chase asks, doubtful. So so so doubtful. "Will we?" Oh God, he's panicking.

"Chase –"

"You wanted to know, right?"

"About what?"

"There is a reason why I'm always so careful. It's –"

"You don't have to tell me," Darling shushes him because he's having this episode that's so unlike him, like he's willing to say anything to hide his fear. And that was dangerous. Oh-so dangerous because what if he said something he regretted? At the heat of the moment, what if he told her something he didn't mean. It seemed so personal and Darling knows they've known each other for almost a year now but damn, she's not that nosy. She's not that –

"I want to." Chase insists.

Darling finds herself reaching out, holding his face, slender fingers under his strong jaw. "Are you sure?" She asks, forcing him to look her in the eyes, making him forget about the storm and the rain that was so powerful that it might just come and sweep and drown any survivors. "I can tell you something about myself instead. I know I said I hated boarding school but I spend years there and I actually made some fond memories with friends, I don't want you saying something you might regret –"

"I'm sure. Just let me talk, please." He begs. "Please, I need to do something to keep myself busy."

Busy, busy. Chase had always looked like he wanted to be busy himself. Even on his off days, he's either filling up his time with sleep or a book, he never relaxes and does nothing. He's always busy doing something.

Darling searches his face for any hesitation; at those bright and frighten eyes; at that quivering pulled back mouth; worry-lined forehead. "Okay." She says finally. "Okay, talk to me, tell me a story." Anything to make you stop shaking.

Chase pulls away from her grip, wanting space. He confesses, words heavy, "My parents – my biological parents, they died when I was a baby."

A heavy hit. A heavy heavy hit. Darling thinks her heart had stopped that exact moment. What has she gotten herself into? She knew Chase was adopted but this was ...

"I don't …" Chase thinks for a moment, now chewing his tightly balled fist. "I don't remember them, like, at all, which is why I said it was cliché. I'm not sad about them, about the loss, which sucks because they're my parents and it makes me sound heartless but I just … don't miss them. I don't miss them but sometimes they do get me thinking." Chase confesses, furrowing his eyebrows. "For example, how they died. It all happened because my parents went on a trip. It was supposed to be short, barely two weeks but then something happened, an accident of some sort, my grandma ... I was left with her before my parents went away for vacation but my grandma never gave me the specific details. And, I know I said I don't remember my parents or miss them but their deaths still freaks me out. They were supposed to be having fun, going on an adventure and stuff, but then they just … died. Poof. Okay, not exactly poof. But, you know, one day they were alive and happy then the next they were six feet under."

Darling can only stare at him and keep silent. Chase was rambling – no, not rambling. He was pouring his heart out and his story was dark, really dark. She's never seen this side of him. Chase had always had this ability to bounce back, even when she's dragged him into the craziest small adventures so to see him this shaken up … it just concerned her greatly.

"It scared me how that could happen." Chase almost laughed at this, but it wasn't the happy kind. "They took like what … one risk then ended up dead? It just … It just blows my mind because they were supposed to be having the time of their lives but then they died. Can you imagine that?"

Darling turns, adjusting her whole body to face him, knees bumping and lovely big blue eyes glued to his face. His words had her caught, stuck like a fly to a spider's web.

Chase lowers his eyes, fiddling with the blanket thrown over their laps. He continued talking, "After that … I was left with my grandma. I remember bits of her, she was sweet. A very sweet old woman, it was … it was just the two of us, I remember that, at least, that we only had each other."

Darling reaches out to hold Chase's hand but he only shook his head so she pulled it back.

"But …" His eyebrows furrow again. "But even back then, I knew it wouldn't last long; me and my grandma." Chase pauses and licks his lips. "She was just … old, you know? She was old. So when she passed away too, it was just me. I was all I had." Chase rubbed his knuckles and stared at the flickering candle flame, afraid it'd die too and leave him in the dark. "I … I was lucky to get adopted so quickly, I know some kids aren't as lucky. My mom said I was pretty charming and that's what got me out of foster care, she said that I was a well-behaved kid and that I didn't cry, I was a good boy and I guess that kept me grounded. If I kept being a good boy then she'd keep me and I wouldn't be lonely anymore."

An aching feeling filled Darling's chest. Now she felt bad, very very bad for always teasing him for being such a stickler for rules and the law.

Chase turns to Darling, seeing her blink back wet lashes. "I think I remember telling you I was a momma's boy, and there's a reason behind that, besides, the fact that my mother is a great person – a real strict woman but great, nonetheless. I really grew attached to my mom but ... she wasn't my second chance, she was my third chance and you know what they say about the rule of thirds – third time's the charm or something. So, in my head, my mom was my last chance and if I were to ever lose her …" He took in a deep breath. "If I were to ever lose my mother then I'd be truly all alone … again."

Again …

Darling now reaches over and grips Chase's hand, not caring if he pushed her away again. She wants to tell him he wasn't alone, to bring him back to his senses that she was here and she was alive and if he were to think she'd ever just go sayonara on his ass then he was wrong. Damn wrong.

Chase swallows the lump in his throat, he had never told anyone this. It was just so … frightening to say it aloud, it made it sound so … real. Too real, like the possibility of it happening could happen any minute.

"Um," Chase blinks, trying to get his bearings right, he felt light-head and the world wasn't exactly spinning but he did feel dizzy. "That fear never quite went away though, because of my mom's career. She's a businesswoman so she flies all around the world, everywhere, to deal with companies and new contract partners. I remembered being little and having it scare the living daylight out of me every time she stood by the front door with a suitcase in her hand. The bigger the luggage, the more scared I got because that meant she would be gone longer. It always ate me up and kept me awake at night but I never cried in front of my mom because I was too prideful of being a good boy that followed the rules. Like I said, I kept thinking of the good boy mentality. Kind of messed up, now that I think about it. I uh ... I think, that's why I got used to being sleep-deprived and having this – this drive, if that's what you can call it. I … it sounds absurd, but I made myself this way. I forced myself to focus on whatever task I was given, from studies to being headboy, because at least if I'm doing something, if I'm preoccupied then I wouldn't have time to think so much. About my dead relatives or the possibility of my mom never returning home, anything, really."

"Chase," Darling says, not knowing what to say. What is there to say? She squeezes his hand again, reeling him in, her warm touch soothed him to calm down.

"It's okay." Chase replies but then frowns. "I mean, it's not. Dead parents and a dead grandma … that's some next level Grimm Brothers' Disney nonsense right there. It sucked and got lonely, or, at least, I got lonely but I'm kind of used to it by now ... since I'm always so busy. But it wasn't all that bad, I had friends, surprisingly. When my mom went for her trips, I usually read or played with a neighbour of mine, Lizzie Hearts. She was nice – a little loud and definitely a demanding princess, the opposite of you, I think? No. Yeah, totally the opposite of you. I mean, you're persuading but not demanding. But she was there, you know? She made things better. We're still friends to this day but she's busy, overseas with her fashion line so I rarely see her nowadays."

Biting her lower lip again, Darling nests her head onto Chase's shoulder, wedging her way between the small space of his neck and, in return, Chase bumped his chin against the top of her head.

"I'm sorry, it got dark. Real dark." Chase confesses, feeling Darling's breath on his throat. "I know I don't look put together with my eyebags and the stick up my butt that you always talk about but … I know you don't think of me as this … fallen apart. I'm usually more stable than this. But the main point is, the reason why I'm so careful is because I don't think I'd be safe anywhere besides Book End, besides home. If I go out there … something could happen to me and then it'd just be my mom. She'd be all alone and I know what that feels like. I don't want her to ever feel that way. Not ever."

"Do you …" Darling was so unsure, her palm finds its way back to his face. "Do you want me to – What do you want me to say to that? I don't –"

"Keep me busy. Talk to me. Tell me anything. Sorry, about earlier, I – I just wanted to get some things off my chest. But now, I just want you to tell me anything about you. Don't stop for a second. I don't know if I can handle –"

"You were right," Darling's voice comes out fast and quiet as the whispered conversation over movie night between popcorn, a classic black-and-white movie and a shared blanket.

"About what?" Chase echoes Darling's earlier words. The only thing holding him together is her hand holding his cheek in place and her words.

If her hand wasn't preoccupied, Darling would have found both her hands twisting her fingers. "About me running away from something,"

"Oh," Chase voices, blue eyes fluttering, taking everything in. Tonight – today? – was going to be a wild one, filled with spilled secrets and seriousness.

"Um, it was because … back in high school, I had ..." Darling pauses, "... an ex."

"Oh," He repeats, here's where he's inexperienced just as Darling was earlier about dead relatives and an orphan backstory.

"I …" It looked like Darling was ready to burst like a damn and cry like the rain pouring outside. "I loved her."

Her …

"I love her a lot." Darling confesses, chest swelling – there. There, she said it. "She dumped me because she didn't win prom queen ... and because she didn't want to out herself even though it was obvious that she wasn't straight. I was … so mad when she broke my heart. I was mad at myself too because I was scared to do anything big after that. I was scared of what would happen afterwards, that if I tried anything as risky as loving her then I'd crash and burn. I hated what I had become because it's not like me. She was so smart and charismatic, pretty and … lonely, but also so selfish. Unbelievably selfish and I can't believe it took me until the break-up to realise how she wasn't … perfect."

His hand reached up and gripped her hand, now she's shaking.

"I'm sorry, my story isn't as deep or long as yours." Darling cries. Actually, cries. "But, it still … feels fresh? The wound that is, as corny as it sounds. You know all those break-up songs? I used to hate them whenever they played on the radio but after that, I just understood everything. The lyrics hit home and the words made sense and it fucking sucked. I felt so weak, like some damsel in distress. I hated how I felt." Darling then growls, as if she remembered the feeling the day she confronted Apple White. Her emotions switched from sadness to anger. "It's been … what? A year? And I'm still thinking about her while she's far, far away, off doing her degree with people who don't know her. She probably isn't thinking about me anymore."

Darling pulls her hand away, now balling it into a tight fist. She was trembling with rage.

"I mean, why would she? Did you know – Did you know that she hadn't broken up with my older brother when she started dating me? She was technically two-timing, she and my brother were the power couple of the school or something before I transferred to Ever After High! I didn't know about it until Dex, my twin, told me because Dare wouldn't say a word, couldn't bring himself to say anything. And when I found out about that –" Darling chokes and wipes her tears angrily away. "I just – I just felt so furious. I helped her cheat on my own brother, for a whole year! She never broke up with him for a whole year when she knew she didn't love him and then she just …" Her fist hit the cushion of Chase's beaten-up couch. She hates how she looked right now, so angry in front of Chase. "I gave her CPR! I saved her life – kissed her – and you'd think she'd – GOD!"

Darling rages in her head. Why was she crying over such a jerk?

"You must think I'm crazy, Chase! You must think I've lost my mind because she's done all these terrible things to me and my brother and yet I still – I think I'm still in love with her! In love with her! Because I still think about her and I still wonder about dumb stuff like destiny and –" Darling sucks in a deep breath, voice cracking. "Why can't I forget about her, Chase? Why can't I move on?"

Taking both her wrists gently to stop her from trembling and to stop beating his poor sofa, Chase answers, "I don't know. I don't know, Darling. But I do know you'll move on from this. You're insanely sweet –"

"No, I'm not –"

"– And you're amazing –"

"Liar –"

"– And you're funny and cool and – "

"Not another word!" Darling shakes her head, sending her curls flying. She didn't want to hear it but she also didn't want to shut Chase out. "I'm not – I'm not any of those things! I'm … I'm mean. I was so rude to my brothers when they didn't spare me a minute during Christmas break. I ran away from them, I spent all my time away from home. How could I have done that to them? To Dex and especially Dare after what happened between us? Of Apple and me and him – Oh, how could I?"

Darling clenches her jaw after saying Apple White's name for the first time in the conversation, ignoring the claps of thunder and rustling wind. To her, mother nature in full force reflected her emotions right now – raging and wet like her tears.

She hiccups and chokes, "My brothers and I apologised to each later but it took a week, it took too long because I was too stubborn to forgive them. And by that time, they had to leave for college again. Why was I so was stubborn? I hated being lonely and I ... I played myself. I played myself like a fool!"

With her parents off to work and her brothers at college, there's no one at home. She's all alone in that big house, just like how Chase was when he was little –

Darling sniffs, "My brothers are coming back for Easter break but I'm still so afraid I'd ruin it for us again. I love them so much and I know growing apart is part of life but I don't want that – I don't – I've already spent five years apart from them because of that stupid boarding school and to spend more time away from them …"

Chase wipes her eyes, urging her to breathe. Breathe, breathe, breathe. Relax.

"I –" Her lips trembled. "I'm sorry about your parents and your grandma."

"I'm sorry about your ex and your brothers."

.

.

.

By mentioning Apple White, it opened the floodgates of Darling's heart that she didn't want anyone to know about.

It was three AM, they were in Chase's garage, shielded from a storm and squeezed a smaller couch in the rickety place. The old radio that either plays early 2000 songs or static played The Scientist. It was a cover by Boyce Avenue and Hannah Trigwell. That radio is a magic one, Darling swears it is.

"I don't understand you," Chase admits, a low rumble of his deep voice.

It's a conflicting thing for Darling to hear but Chase's truthful and completely being himself, something Darling can't help but appreciate.

Darling leans her head against his shoulder and lets Chase tuck his chin on her head. Her silver curls are soft and smells of vanilla. He's about to fall asleep, she's sure of it. In fact, he might not even remember this talk.

Darling answers, "It's okay, I don't understand myself either."

"You'll figure it out." Chase says, then he's out like a light.

.

.

.

It was three AM.

It was cold, scary and they couldn't sleep because of how scared they were. They were tired and all that they could do was talk and listen, to each other and to the old radio. So they talked, and things get spilled out – secrets and pasts and whatnot.

Chase told Darling about his past on why he's so careful. How his parents died while traveling, how he doesn't remember them and of the little memory of his grandmother, of being grateful for his adopted by Madam Redford and books and Lizzie Hearts. And in return, Darling tells Chase about Apple and her brothers and her lonely life.

Now they're both bare in front of each other with nothing (maybe) holding them back.


After that night, Chase realised how vulnerable Darling could be, just like any other person. Something just snapped, make him realise because he just forgot how everyone can be small. Sure, he's a worry worth but he worries about everyone, that's just him. He doesn't care if you're a stranger in the streets or Mrs Jester who tripped on thin air. He'll worry.

But Darling's different. Sure, she can be persuasive as a 'the baby in her family', but she didn't need to be sheltered. She didn't need to be coddled and it was just easy for Chase to forget sometimes. Darling's so independent and 'I do what I want' centered that it hardly came across Chase that he'd ever have to really look out for her.

The thunderstorm is what Chase thinking:

(1) Darling Charming really doesn't have anyone else to turn to – not her working parents or her far away brothers and busy friends.

(2) Even in the comfort of his home and stable job, Chase Redford realises all of it – his life – could be swept away from him in a blink of an eye. After a thunderstorm like this, mother nature is relentless anywhere he is. It doesn't care who you are or what you do, if it wants to take something then it will.

.

.

.

"These are for you," Chase says casually days later as he visits Darling's warehouse (yes, her very own.) He tosses something at her, sends a box sailing and into Darling's arms.

Darling catches the box without any trouble, without uttering an 'ompf!'. She's covered in grease and has her long hair pulled in a high ponytail when she asks, "What's this?"

Chase begins his explanation, slow just to build up suspense and to get on her nerves, "Remember that job offer? The one you asked me to be your partner months ago?"

"Wha –"

"You wanted to travel, right?" Chase asks her back and a big, healthy grin stretches on her face, hands stuffed deep in the pockets of his jeans.

"You don't mean –" Darling doesn't finish her words, she's too excited and looking at the box like Chase has just presented her with the moon.

"Open it."

And she does, tearing paper and throwing away those shredded confetti things. Inside lays comfortable sneakers; stylish and silver and reflective. She hasn't – She hasn't worn sneakers since prom, since –

"Chase!" She squeals and hugs the shoes tight, close to her beating heart. "Chase, I –" She's lost for words. To her, it's more than just new shoes. It's the chance for her to finally do something, to start fresh and travel and just live and –

"Thank you." She finally says, smiling wider than he's ever seen her smile – all glowing red cheeks and loud eyes.

He asks her, "Ready to get out of Book End and travel the world?"


Chapter Text

the sleepless elite


chapter fifteen


 


I'm sorry, mother, I'm sorry, I let you down,
Well, these days I'm fine,
No these days I tend to lie,
I'll take the west train, just by the side of Amsterdam,
Just by my left brain.

– Imagine DragonsAmsterdam


"Chill, Dex! I'm fine." Is the first thing Darling Charming says to her twin brother when she lands at the airport. She adjusts her phone against her cheek as she studies Chase Redford who's talking on the phone too, with his mother, Madam Redford.

"I'm rambling, aren't I?" Dexter asks but then doesn't give Darling a moment to reply. "Oh, Darling, why am I more nervous than you? Gosh, maybe because you're in Amsterdam and the rules are practically nonexistence and I'm just afraid if you get hurt then no one will come and save you!"

Amsterdam – where there are practically no rules or laws to follow. Where (arguably) no law held Chase and Darling back, because if everything was legalized then there were no laws to break and no laws to follow. It was the perfect first stop for a worry worth like Chase to travel and the perfect place for Darling to unleash her adventurous side!

"I don't need saving. I'm alright, Dex, I'm fine." Darling answers gently so that Dexter's anxiety doesn't sky rocket. "Plus, I'm not alone. I'm with a co-worker!"

"I know you're not alone, if you were, Mother and Father wouldn't allow it!"

"Hmm,"

"Speaking of Mother and Father, did you call them yet?" Dexter asks and Darling can practically picture Dexter pacing in his room and being all worried while Raven Queen sits near-by, trying to calm him down.

Darling replies, walking in circles as she talked, "Yeah, I called them first before I called you."

"Okay, great! Just don't forget to keep the family group chat updated, okay? And call Dare."

"I will and I wouldn't forget to call Dare after I've called everyone else." Darling says. After all, that would be incredibly rude.

"I know, I just wanted to remind you." Dexter says then launches into more question, eating up her minutes but it's not like Darling minded, she liked talking to her brother a lot. Plus, she was currently working and getting paid so she could afford these luxuries.

Darling walks around a bit more before she takes a step, silver shoes reflecting the sunrays, and looks outside the airport's big window, towards all the possibilities and adventures; at the blue skies and glaring sun. Spring is beautiful and it's May (insert meme about Justin Timberlake here), after spending a whole month, April, with her family and preparing for her business trip, Darling is finally here! Her first stop. She's finally traveling!

"Anything else?" Darling teases, smiling.

"I'm rambling again, aren't I? Okay, okay, I'll stop talking. I'll let you call Dare." Dexter says. "Oh, and Raven says 'hi'!"

"Tell her I said 'hi' back!"

"I will!" Then Dexter tells Darling. "Don't forget to keep me update! Bye!"

And the call ends.

Before Darling dials her other brother's phone number, she looks back at Chase just to make sure he's still near her. She knows he's super paranoid that he might come off as an annoying tourist and doing something bad like accidentally offending the locals without knowing it. But by the way Chase was echoing "Yes, mom", "Yes, mom", "I understand, mommy" – the last line being whispered with a blush painted on his cheeks (which was low-key adorable) – Darling would say Chase is too preoccupied to fill the occupation of being an annoying tourist or offending someone, unless speaking of the phone is considered rude.

With the knowledge that Chase was ten steps away from her, safe and sound, Darling scrolls down her contact list and calls Daring to tell him she's fine and well and what's the weather like.

"So I take it everything is swell and you've told Dex and Father and Mother everything you've told me?" Daring asks, five minutes into the conversation after Darling had relayed it out to the blonde boy.

"Uh, define 'everything'?" Darling answers.

Daring's voice immediately dips with concern. "Did something happen? You've barely been in Amsterdam for half an hour!"

"I know that, Dare. And, no, nothing happened. I just didn't tell Dex one tiny detail."

"And that is?"

"Weeell …" Darling says, rolling the 'E's in her sentence and spinning around as she walks with her phone pressed to her ear.

"Yeeeah?" Daring replies, doing the same, voice sounding far away yet also so near.

Darling huffs a nervous breath out of her mouth, "Um, I'll be going off the map most of the time, since the bikes need to be tested in harsh conditions and whatnot, so I won't have cell phone reception. I didn't tell Dex because I'd figure he'd freak out so could you tell him for me?" Then she adds quickly because she didn't want Daring to think she's just dumping her responsibilities on him, the oldest of the Charming siblings. "I'm telling you this because I trust you, you know?"

At this, Daring lets out a well-natured strong laugh, so like his proud Daring self. "Of course," He says then whispers as if it would be embarrassing if anyone caught him saying this, "Of course, I trust you too, Darling. I'll tell Dex."

"Thank you."

He lets out another laugh. "No problem. We Charmings have to stick together, through thick and thin."

"Yeah,"

Daring clicks his tongue, knowing their call with end soon. "I'll … Text me, okay? I say that because I'm assuming calling me will be harder, but text me when you have the reception."

"I will." Darling replies and she doesn't know why but it feels like a good-bye. Maybe because she's starting something new in her life and also because now she's chosen to spend less time with her brothers. "I will. Bye,"

"Talk to you later."

With a smile still on her face, Darling slips her phone back into the pocket of her jeans and turns to face Chase. Judging by his lack of "Yes, mom" replies, Chase must have gotten off the phone before Darling had. But she notices how he's busy writing something down on his phone, fingers flying on the keyboard.

"Hey, how did your phone call go?" Darling asks as she steps beside Chase.

"Good." Chase answers then adds, "I'm texting Ace now."

"Bagel guy? Why would you do that?"

Chase makes a face at the mention of 'Bagel guy' then he says, "Because he's nosy and if I don't say anything then he'll call me."

"You have a 'beautiful' friendship." Darling teases.

Chase only rolls his eyes and bumps his shoulder against her, making her stumble a little. But he makes it up when he says, "I think ours is better."


"Oh, I forgot." Chase says as they walked to their hotel room, making Darling stare at him in return. He adjusts his backpack – the only luggage he has – since traveling light is essential. They'll pick up the motorbikes tomorrow from a local branch the motorbike company owns here in Amsterdam.

Darling rubs a spot under her eye, fingers touching her beauty mark. She's an adventurous one but spending hours on a plane can tire anyone, her long pale blonde hair was in a high bun and she was wearing comfortable but unflattering clothes. Her own over-sized backpack is strapped to her back.

She asks, "What? Did you forget to pack something important? Phone charger, perhaps?"

Chase shakes his head. "No, I forgot to thank you for booking the hotel rooms. I'll pay you back."

"No, it's okay, I'll pay for your hotel room. Um, for the shoes, you know?" Darling says, walking ahead of Chase. She sounded almost embarrassed as she said this, like she was about to say .. something, like she didn't want to be caught saying anything cheesy. "I know the shoes weren't cheap, they're branded, I looked it up."

"Darling?" Chase echoes and she swears his pace has slowed or maybe he's stopped walking. Maybe he's taking in her words.

"I know I don't need to explain or whatever but I remember when I was in boarding school, a girl told me that gifting close friends with shoes is a bad thing because it means you want said close friend to walk away from your life or something along those lines. And ..." Darling pauses but paces faster. "And I don't want to walk away from you so I'll pay you back."

Her face is red as she continues to walks ahead.

"Don't laugh, okay?" Darling says just so she can have some final say in the conversation.

Then she waits for Chase to react. For him to coo at her or for him to laugh and brush the issue off despite her telling him not to but Chase doesn't answer. It's a little …

Darling knows she's being super cheesy for spewing out such a proclamation but he didn't have to leave her in the quiet.

"Chase?" Darling calls and spins around. Then she notices how Chase is several feet away from her, turned from her attention and how his eyes fixated on something else.

"Er," Chase points to a building, a hotel to be specific, and Darling just notices it's swamped with cars and the authority, medics and firemen but no fire. "Is that normal?"

"Um, I don't know? What's happening?" Darling answers, walking back to Chase's side and eyeing the building now too with a curious expression. Low-key, she's glad Chase probably didn't catch anything she said. She's ... glad he's distracted.

"I think someone's stuck in their hotel room." Chase says, observing the situation. A path was barred off; there were three police cars, an ambulance and a fire truck surrounding the hotel. The police were telling bystanders to leave while firemen were helping an unconscious man get down from his room via the hotel's window before the paramedics tried resurrecting the said unconscious guy.

Darling asks, "Really, the window? They couldn't break him out the normal way?"

"Well, he's unconscious so maybe he collapsed?"

But, then Chase notes how the policemen had bags in their hands, moving it from the man's hotel room to their police car, likely confiscating them. Just what on earth – Realisation hit Chase like a truck and it seemed like Darling connected the dots too. That man had overdosed himself.

Chase's deep blue eyes go wide and he swears he may just be luck that the ambulance is so close because he thinks he may just have a heart attack (or maybe he's unlucky to be here because holy heck, a man just overdosed himself!). Chase asks, "Is it too late to go back to Book End?"

"Yes," Darling states as she begins to steer Chase away from the commotion, she didn't need to give Chase anything to fret about on their first day here. "Let's go, our hotel is near-by." She tells him as she reaches out and holds his hand without a second thought, so he doesn't stray and so he wouldn't get lost.

They continued walking down the main street but Darling knows Chase was chewing his bottom lip the entire time and eyeing the place with worry. She hopes he doesn't have an anxiety attack. It wasn't long before Chase noticed the change in atmosphere and the presence of more and more red pillars that cut off passageways.

She could feel his clammy hands get sweatier as Chase asks, "Um … Darling, where is our hotel located?"

Darling almost sounded sheepish as she admitted this, "… Behind the red-light district."

"What?! Why –"

"It was cheaper," She quips, not giving him a moment to spare, a moment to panic. "Don't stop walking. Keep moving."

"But –"

"Think positive. Remember Dory from Finding Nemo? Don't stop moving. Just keep swimming." – Because if they don't stop then they won't stop. They'll keep expanding their horizons and conquer their fears and keep moving forward.

Chapter Text

the sleepless elite


chapter sixteen


 


You clicked your heels and wished for me

– Panic! At the DiscoNorthern Downpour


Waterloo, I was defeated, you won the war,
Waterloo, promise to love you for ever more,
Waterloo, couldn't escape if I wanted to,
Waterloo, knowing my fate is to be with you.

– ABBAWaterloo


"My twin senses are tingling."

"Is it now?"

"Hmm,"

"Are they really tingling or do you just not want to write your essay?"

"Both. I'm worried about Darling too," Dexter Charming says, turning away from the essay he was writing. Writing assignments tend to do that to you. Let your mind wander elsewhere. "I know I can't get a hold of Darling because she's off the map so would it be weird if I use your FaceTime account and ask Maddie a few questions later?" He asks his girlfriend, Raven Queen, who just happened to be listening to music to drown out the possible growing headache she was going to have from all the assessment stress.

"Maddie?"

Dexter nods then continues talking, the rambling part of him coming out, "I know it's weird but, like last year or something, Darling said she had went adventuring with ... the sleepless elite, likely? And I just want to know if Darling ever mentioned anything about her job to Maddie."

"Uh, Dex, Darling never went adventuring with Maddie." Raven says, eyebrow climbing higher on her face. "That's not possible, Maddie immediately took over her Dad's tea shop after we graduated Ever After High. Darling probably meant she went exploring with Alistair and Bunny. Those two told me they were going on an adventure before we left for college."

"Well, that's not possible either, Rae."

"And why is that?" Raven asks, sitting upright from Dexter's dorky blue Star Wars sheets the same time Dexter finally turned fully away from his study desk.

Dexter answers, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose, "I bumped into Alistair and Bunny while getting college supplies at Target and Alistair apologized for not being able to bring Darling along with them on their travels. He said something about Darling not wanting to third-wheel?"

At this, Raven's eyebrows pinched together. "Are you sure?"

"Very," Dexter replies. "Here, let me check their Instagram account real quick to show you." Then the brunette boy grabbed his phone, unlocked it and flicked through Alistair and Bunny's Instagramadventure. is. out. there.

"She has to be with Alistair and Bunny." Raven answers, walking over to Dexter's side and glancing over his shoulder. "If she isn't then …" Raven doesn't even let her words finish, instead, choosing to let it die off.

"Well, she's not in their pictures." Dexter notes, eyes impossible blue as he scrolls further down, passing weeks and weeks of pictures. None of them had his twin sister's face in it. Then he pauses and says, "Maybe I should check Darling's Instagram?" because who else is there in the sleepless elite for Darling to hang out with?

Raven shakes her head in return, stopping Dexter from typing out Darling's username. "There's no point. You know Darling never posts pictures of herself or anyone, at that matter, on her Instagram account. So what are the chances that she'll take pictures of whoever she hung out with?"

Biting the inside of his cheek, Dexter utters again, "My twin senses are telling me something's happening, I just don't know what."

(What was happening?)

If this was any random given conversation, Raven would have rolled her eyes due to her boyfriend's worry sort personality but this seemed … mysterious and suspicious.

"I had heard Darling had hanged out with friends while we were away. I just assumed it was with Maddie but now ..." Dexter says.

"Yeah …" Raven rubs a spot on her neck then a knot between her shoulders blades. Gosh, she can't help but feel worried now too. Especially since, to Raven, Darling not only feels like a good friend but also like a sister. "I knew Darling had dropped by the Wonderland Haberdashery and Tea Shoppe from time to time but I always assumed Alistair and Bunny had let Darling tag along on their adventuring."

There's another pause.

"Dex … Dex, earlier you said 'friends' instead of 'the sleepless elite'. Are you sure Darling was even referring to the sleepless elite when she had said she was hanging out with friends? Was it even 'friends' or just 'a friend'?" Raven asks, knowing Dexter was freaking out with her.

"Darling didn't tell me personally." Dexter's blue eyes widen and he had to blink several times just to make sure he wasn't dreaming. "My mother was the one to tell me. She said Darling had been spending time out of the house."

Oh, that was kinda late news. One year too late. Actually, two years now.

"Rae, if Darling hadn't spent time with Maddie or Alistair and Bunny, then who has she been spending all her time with?"

"I … I don't know? Before we went off to college, Darling, Maddie and I sat around and talked about what to do before Summer ended but then …" Raven twisted the ring around her finger. "Stuff just happened?"


The 'there are no rules to follow therefore there are no rules to be broken' concept was nice until it was contradicted not even an hour later into the Amsterdam trip by the sight of the unconscious man, and the police getting involved and confiscating whatever drugs that said man had.

Darling Charming admits, her heart did slam in her chest when her travel partner and friend, Chase Redford, had asked her "Is it too late to go home?". It was scary that he was backing out so fast, absolutely terrifying. But it was also understandable that he would say that. What they saw, it was a disaster sight.

Luck was on Darling's side when she had managed to calm down Chase's anxieties and convince him otherwise (a close call). She knew from experience with her family - traveling was and will never be an easy ride, there are sure to be hiccups here and there, and 'oh shit' moments but for that(that!)to be their first obstacle … it just seems utterly bonkersSo ridiculous that Darling almost didn't want to fathom the other obstacles they could have run into.

However, the key word here is 'almost'.

Because Darling didn't back down. She stayed. She had stayed and held Chase's hand and told him everything was going to be okay. And it did turn out okay. Everything turned out okay because they were still here traveling, and they were learning and growing and experiencing so that was something, at least.

"I'm dying," Chase groans, eyes shut as if he's ready to die there and then, as sweat trickled down his temple and neck. He gestures to the sun beating down on them, the huge umbrella over them doesn't do much against the heat, and Chase fans himself once more with his hat. It was Spring once again and a year had gone by since Amsterdam.

Now, she's nineteen and he's twenty-three (and if anyone asked, yes, Darling did play that Taylor Swift song on his birthday last year when he turned twenty-two and he absolutely hated it by the way he said I swear Taylor Swift is haunting me, I hear her EVERYWHERE expressed with tired groaning and him trying to grab her phone out of her hand).

"What a way to go: BBQ-ed to death." Darling teases, sipping on her ice cold water. It's … nice. It's nice that they're able to take a break to sit down and breathe. Working is hard; constantly on the road, tired to the bone, driving in difficult conditions from one country to the other.

Chase cracks open a brilliant blue eye and asks, "How are you not dying?"

With her silver-ish blonde hair pulled in a high ponytail, she jokes, "I'm magic."

"Why can't I be magic?"

"You are." Darling says and smirks at his whining. "You just don't know it yet."

Then she answers his parched statement by pushing her cold drink towards him. Chase doesn't even hesitate to reach for it and takes several large gulps, downing about half of the glass's content. What is it about boys and their never ending stomachs?

Darling propped her chin on her palm and gave Chase a look. "After lunch, let's do something."

"Like what?"

"Well," Darling says, wiggling her eyebrows and leaning forward, meeting Chase in the middle of their table. "We're at Aphrodite's fountain so we should be finding you a girl."

If Chase was still drinking her water, Darling was sure he'd be choking now. Yes, they were in Greece, on one of the islands Mamma Mia! was shot at (Darling has learned to be disappointed by the lack of accuracy portrayed in movies. Mamma Mia! was not shot on one island but three – Skopelos, Skiathos and Damouhari Pelion).

"And leave our stuff exposed for criminals to steal?" Chase utters, shaking his head. Unlike Darling, Chase had his backpack on his lap, arms wrapped securely around it like he was afraid someone would come up to him and snatch all his things away. Plus, they still had places to go and things to see like the Parthenon and Santorini's many beaches (Ammoudi Bay where they could go cliff diving, Monolithos where there was black sand, another beach where the sand was red). He says, "No thanks."

"Our stuff won't get stolen." Darling tells him. That statement was pretty much a knock on wood type of situation.

"You can't say that."

"And why is that?"

"Because I'm not the one who got her ticket pick-pocketed." Chase says.

"I didn't get pick-pocketed. I just bumped into a guy and my ticket fell out. Who on earth would want to pick-pockets a train ticket?" Darling points out. "It was one time, let it go, Chase."

And Chase's response to this is to roll his eyes.

"I thought you weren't afraid of a good challenge." Darling teases, hoping it would provoke him (just a little). Chase's fear of danger and the unknown often won over the exciting parts of their traveling life.

"I'm not afraid of a challenge. You know I'd never back down from a good challenge. But this –" He runs a hand through his messy black hair and faded red highlights. "This is ... different."

"Is it?" Darling hums and stirs her drink, making the melting ice bob around.

She almost couldn't take him seriously due to the disastrous state his hair is in. He had removed his cap when they had sat down and is now sporting hat hair. And believe her, every part of her wanted to reach over and smoothen it down like how she had done with her brothers but Chase was too tall and Darling was lazy and tired from all the walking and the sun beating down on her, so she's going to leave Chase looking like a tired tourist.

"It is. And let's face it, you're just saying this whole 'go find a girl' nonsense because you're bored of just traveling and riding bikes, aren't you?" Chase asks, guessing right on the nose because it's been a whole year of rinse and repeat, and he knows her.

"I would never get tired of traveling or bikes!" Darling says, almost offended Chase would imply that. She smoothens an escaping blonde curl and continues, "Plus, you know how much I miss my White Knight. And I bet you miss your Red Knight too."

"I do." He says. Chase mirror's Darling, leaning the left side of his face on the back of his hand and stares at the kitchen area, wondering when their food will reach them. He's hungry from all the walking and all the climbing.

"Bless Bagel Guy Ace for maintaining and taking care of our babies, they looked well oiled and polished in the pictures." She sighs, meaning it, finishing her water.

Chase snorts, "He must think he's so cool having both models in his garage."

"He must!" And Darling lets out a pleasant laugh in return. Her playful gaze then turns to Chase, "Anyway, are we going to find you a girl or not?"

"Darling, we spend at best two months in one country. And most of that time is spent on the road. Who is there for me to 'hook up with'?" Chase says, making quotation marks at the 'hooking up' part. "What do you think this is? The plot to Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again?"

"No, but it could be. When we go to Waterloo, why don't you try to find your own Donna and serenade your heart out like Harry Bright? We can even find you a leather jacket to wear."

"Didn't Harry Bright turn out to be gay at the end of Mamma Mia!?"

"Yes, and there's nothing wrong with that." Darling says in a matter-of-fact voice. "But, you know, at the time, he was very in love with Donna so I'm just saying, maybe you can fall in love too?"

He shook his head and tells her, "No. Not right now, no thanks."

"Chase, you can't choose when or who you're going to fall in love with."

"Yeah, but," And then the strict, former prefect part of Chase comes out and tells her, "Wait, why are you even thinking about me when you should thinking about yourself?"

And now it's Darling's turn to groan because, oh God, Chase is being a stick in the butt again.

"You should be thinking about your education! You should be thinking about your future! Your life!" Chase says, giving her a look and crossing his arms, "Do you even have a life?"

"Okay, first of all, ouch." She says, fake hurting. "Secondly, yes, I do. I already have a life." Darling tells him with a sudden strong voice, determined and not backing down. Her posture then straightens and her face burns red, in which Chase isn't sure if she's flooded with emotion like passion or if he's made her angry by what he had just said to her. She says in a clear voice, "My life is this!"

"This?" His eyebrow furrow in confusion.

"This. All of this!" She says, spreading her arms and making a big wave to gesture to her surroundings and Chase wasn't sure if she was referring to her job or her traveling life or him near her, with her.

This. This this this. Because, currently, this was her everything. This was her life and her home and her fiery soul, and if she were to have Dorothy's red shoes and if she were to click her heels, she'd wish to be here. Here and nowhere else.

(What was happening? THIS was happening)

They let the moment hang for a while in which a waitress finally serves them their meals and refills their glasses of water. Chase looks up and looks at the waitress in the eye while he says a polite 'thank you' while Darling flashes the woman a charming smile.

The waitress turns bright red (because, hello, she's shown gratitude by two very hot people) then echoes a 'thank you' too.

And while Darling cuts into her food, Chase says, "We don't have to find me anyone. I'm okay with how I am now. More than okay."

And Darling knows Chase means it because of how he is. Because of how Chase is always wanting – itching – to do something. Chase was a workaholic, he was conditioned to constantly do something. Darling had noted how antsy he would get when things weren't moving forward. She even made him explain himself so that she could understand him better, and he said, he didn't mind doing something even if it's small. But it couldn't be something too small or something in the background because he'll start getting thoughts along the lines like "I can't just read a book, I'm glad that I'm finishing it but – Oh, I know, I'll make boil some water so I can drink tea and keep myself hydrated in the meanwhile". He says he knows that it's 'completely ridiculous' (his own words) but he just has to do something. So for Chase to just settle on something meant a lot. A lot a lot a lot.

"Anyway," Chase speaks up, chewing. "Anyway, shouldn't it be you who we should be looking a new love life for? A new … girlfriend?" And he may as well be tumbling over his words as he says this because he never ever ever wants to bring back Darling's heartache. He isn't even sure if she's gotten over Apple White yet.

Darling tilts her head and corrects him, "Or boyfriend" and the tone of her voice tells him, somewhere between one year ago and now, Darling had finally managed to let go.

The crease between his eyebrows deepened. Chase was a little confused. Hm, okay, maybe more than a little. "Didn't you – Didn't you say that …?"

"Yeah but I'm bisexual." Darling says in a duh tone, cutting her food with her fork and knife.

Oh, okay. Maybe Chase didn't know Darling that well but they had only known each other for two years and Chase remembers reading somewhere that it did take friends like three or four years to get to know everything about each other.

"Oh,"

"Yeah,"

"Oh."

"You're making this sound weird." Darling squints at him, pointing her knife at him. "Are you those people who don't believe in bisexuals because I will punch you, right here, right now."

Holding up his hands, that were still clamped around his utensils, he shook his head. "I'm not. I'm not those people."

"Good," She says and lowers her knife. Then she picks up the conversation like the past ten seconds never happened. "Anyway, are you up for cliff diving later?"

"Uh-huh, we're going to visit most of the beaches today. Tomorrow we're going to be complete tourists, doing cliche stuff like taking pictures at Zeus's temple and getting souvenirs."

Darling's face then twists into a playful look. "I dare you to get a souvenir on this island."

"Why?" Chase asks, hands paused over his dish.

And Darling just smiles, all devil-like.

He asks again, "What have you seen in those shops?"

She continues smiling.

"Darling, what have you seen?!"

"You'll see it when you look yourself."

.

.

.

She came into his life and stayed. She made him try new things he'd never consider. She made him travel and have fun and just live, even when it scared him.

Chapter Text

the sleepless elite


chapter seventeen


 


Maybe the princess can save herself? That sounds like a pretty good story too.

– Marissa Meyer


What comes with comfort, gets taken for granted.

.

.

.

Chase Redford sits on his bed and flips through the array of television channels. It's his off day and he's bored out of his mind as he waits in a hotel located somewhere in Cuba. His fingers twitched to reach for a book; do something other than waste his time watching a TV show that he has no interest in, but something told him 'no'. Something told him that Darling Charming was about to burst into his hotel room any minute now and tell him about her plan.

Whether it was a master plan to have fun, sight-see or just try out this restaurant that has 'super good reviews' on Google, Darling would not let him say 'no' even if he had a say in it.

And as if on cue, Chase hears Darling's footsteps walking outside his door. It's been about two years and a half of their friendship, and a year and half of travelling together, it's not all that surprising that he's already memorized the sound of her footsteps or the fact that he has a distinct memory of the way Darling walks when they get split up in a crowded area. Though, her silver-ish blonde-blue hair is enough to make her stand out (for him, it's his height).

Chase gets up from his bed and opens his door before Darling even gets a chance to knock. He looks down and meets her light blue eyes, absentmindedly answering with a "Hey."

"I'm going out," She answers, dressed in blue jeans and a simple white shirt. A backpack clung to her back, her long curls were swept into a ponytail and she was still wearing the shoes he bought her oh-so long ago. A part of Chase admires Darling for her ability to take care of the things she cherishes.

He raises a dark eyebrow at her and tilts his head. She had said 'I', not 'us'. Chase asks, "Alone?"

"Solo mission." Darling nods. "I'm meeting some people, dropping something off."

"So you're meeting some friends?"

Darling's teeth tugs on her bottom lip and a spark of mischief shines behind those eyes of hers. Uh-oh. "Not exactly."

"What's that supposed to mean?" He asks, wanting to interrogate her but goes against it.

"What are you going to do while I'm out?" She asks back, adjusting her backpack strap. Just where is she going with that thing?

Chase knows Darling's just trying to change the subject but he plays along, he can't control her. He tips his chin at the book on his bed.

She follows the direction he's point at until she sees it. "Nerd," Darling teases with a scoff.

He defends himself, "You're a nerd too. You always read my books as soon as I'm done with them."

At this, Darling flutters her long, pale lashes all sassily and then rolls her eyes. She tosses her ponytail in a way that tells him to forget about it. Then she says, "Have fun staying in your room reading."

This time, he rolls his eyes back at her, too focused on being sassy back to properly wave Darling off.

"I'll see you in a few hours!" And with that, she disappears down the hotel's hall and Chase shuts the door behind him.

But, Chase doesn't immediately pick up his book. No. He ends up staring at his door for longer than he would have liked. Honestly, this meeting sounded kind of suspicious in Chase's opinion. But, he knows Darling. A little better than he did six months ago. And he knows once Darling Charming is determined about something, it's very hard to deter her away from her goal.

But, hey, maybe it's just Chase being his usual self? Maybe he's just being a worry-worth? There's nothing he can really do anyway beside read his book and wait things out.

Three knocks sounded before Darling's voice calls, "Chase?"

"Darling?" Chase calls back, blinking in confusion.

That was … odd. That was without a doubt Darling's voice but … why didn't he hear her footsteps beforehand? He's grown so use to knowing when she's about to approach him that he rarely gets surprised by her sudden presence. Maybe … the hotel's carpet was super soft or something?

"Open the door, please." Darling says, her voice sounded smaller than her usual determine self.

Once again, Chase feels something in his gut, but once again, Chase dismisses it for the hotel's good oak door. Without replying, Chase gets up from his bed and unlocks the door.

"You took a while," He said, not looking up from his book. He's too engrossed, he was ten pages away from finishing the whole thing. He didn't spare her a look as he flopped back on his bed, letting the TV play in the background.

Chase didn't think much of it when Darling just stood there, looking pinched. He figured she was probably guilty about something she had done. He's grown used to knowing Darling would go off on her own solo adventures only to come back and tell him she did something wild that he totally disagreed with (like the time she found this stray dog that didn't turn out to be a stray and tried to convince Chase they could totally travel around the world with this goodest boy in the entire universe).

But, beside that point, whenever Darling had any secrets, it usually took time and coasting out of her. Therefore, Chase never prodded. Darling would usually come to him later and tell him about it on her own terms. For her to tell him so soon is totally out of character –

"Um … Chase?" Began Darling, overly cheerful, as she stood awkwardly by the doorway. Her cheerfulness started to trail off as soon it came and – a tingling sent shivers up his spine.

Wha –?

"… Chase …" Darling calls again and just the sound of it puts Chase off. It sounded laboured.

Chase immediately felt a dread as his heartbeat drummed against his ears. Panic. That's what he felt. Because Darling never calls Chase that tenderly. Something was wrong. Very, very wrong.

Just hours ago, Chase remembers how they were finally sitting down and having a pleasant meal. It was so nice that Chase momentarily forgot about the hardness of work and just appreciated the simplicity of his life. The whole afternoon was a nice reward from all the travelling. From dragging their luggage and feet from country to country; from riding new motorbikes under the hot sun and the biting cold and the powerful winds and raging downpour; from exposing and contracting new sicknesses every time they put themselves in new surroundings. From travelling in general because it's not all fun and games. Jet lag is a real problem and travelling gets real tiring too.

And so, for this to happen. For this –

"What's wrong?" Chase asks, dropping his book and immediately standing.

He took quick strides towards Darling as her pale face said it all. She was in pain. So much so that all she could do was stand by his door like she wanted to run to help immediately (but couldn't).

"My foot … ankle maybe … I don't know, I hurt it." Darling explains, making Chase dread every second as she continued talking. "I – I don't think it's broken or anything because I didn't hear a snap but …" And she even has the gall to let out a nervous laugh.

"Why didn't you say anything earlier?" Chase wants to scold her for letting precious minutes pass.

"I …" Darling was not able to prevent the wetness in her eyes as she looked at him. "I didn't want to worry you."

Chase's gaze flits to her leg. The way Darling was standing … her left leg was held higher than normal like she was afraid to let anything touch it. Darling was in more pain then she let on. "You're an idiot if you think for a moment that I –"

He doesn't finish his words and lifts her in the air.

Darling's eyes widen and the look at her face changes from pain to an angry kind of embarrassment. Chase knows that Darling doesn't mind getting babied, but for her to be treated any less on the other hand.

Darling frowns, "Wait – this is really weird! I just wanted to tell you so we could go to the hospital together, put me down!" This is not at anyway romantic to her. She's beyond furious at herself that she's landed herself in this 'delicate' situation.

"Am I hurting you?"

"N – No. But, I'm perfectly capable of –"

"Then I'm carrying you to the lobby then we'll get the ambulance."

"We don't need to get the ambulance, we'll take an Uber to the hospital or something. It's cheaper."

"Darling –"

"Don't fight me on this, Chase." But that was just the start of their argument.

.

.

.

He carries her like a princess, like she's delicate and he's afraid that he'll hurt her. He carries her like she weighs nothing because he's Chase, and Chase is impossibly tall, and Chase is strong, and a gentleman that doesn't want to show weakness.

.

.

.

(And he knows that she doesn't like to show weakness either)

.

.

.

And she knows that she's hurt but Goddamn does she hate how fragile he thinks she is.

 

Chapter Text

the sleepless elite


chapter eighteen


 


"How did this happen?" Chase asks, blue eyes trained on the floor and dark eyebrows furrowed together.

They're huddled in a corner, sitting side-by-side in a waiting room in a general hospital. His leg is bouncing up and down widely like a jackhammer while she has a slip of paper with a number on it between her fingers. They had gotten to the hospital via Uber after Darling had forced Chase to put her down in the hotel lobby, and Chase had doubletracked and made a trip back upstairs to their rooms to get necessities like identification, extra cash and phone chargers because the trip to the hospital could take awhile.

"Remember how I said I was meeting 'some people'?" Darling starts off slow and careful, bringing Chase back to her earlier words.

Chase laces and unlaces his claps hands. He doesn't like the sound of this explanation. "Yes?"

"Well … these guys … they weren't exactly friends … like I said." She replies, feeling guilty, looking guilty.

"Are you saying they were sketchy strangers?" Because he's told her a hundred and ten times about stranger danger. She's nineteen for goodness sake! This kinda stuff should be drilled into her head by now!

Darling swallows, not meeting his gaze. It's not that she can't but she won't so she looks at the numbering screen instead, counting on how many other patients' there's left to weed through before it's her turn. The hospital is so packed and busy, she's got a long way to go.

"… Kinda." She finally answers.

"Darling," He warns, tone hardening. He knows they shouldn't have such a private conversation in the public eye but he had spent the whole taxi ride to the hospital in a panic and he needs to know all these details if shit hits the fan.

Ignoring the shooting pain in her ankle and Chase's burning gaze, Darling starts explaining herself, "Well, not complete strangers. I had met these people earlier … a few days ago. We were at the New Mexico borders."

And suddenly, Chase is transported to the memory of stopping by a dodgy, run down looking gas station. It was before they reached Cuba. They had to refill their latest tester motorbikes and Chase had left Darling alone for ten minutes. Just ten minutes to go to into the gas station's convenience store, pay for the fuel and grab some snacks for the rest of the journey. Darling had stayed by their bikes to pump fuel into them.

I can't leave you alone for a second. I can't leave you alone at all Chase begins thinking to himself, a sort of distressed feeling behind his thoughts.

"What did you do?" Chase whispers, feeling dread. Deep down to his toes, he's glad the people in the waiting room are minding their business; on their phones and reading magazines and having their own private little conversations.

Twisting her fingers together, Darling begins explaining herself some more. But not after biting her lower lip, she just felt so stupidly guilty. The first part of Darling's story was her deciding to strike up a conversation with a group of beefy looking guys and their leader. She had made the first move and inquired them about the weird thing on the roof of their vehicle.

Now pinching the hem of her shirt, Darling says, "These guys … they called themselves 'Storm Chasers' and I just … I thought they sounded so cool. They said they would used that weird contraption welded to the top of their minivan to defect incoming storms and that they would chase after said storm for the thrill. You should have seen the look on their faces when they told me this, Chase, they were adventure seekers too!"

"I –" Chase sputters. "I can't believe that you would talk to strangers like that! Darling, you just – you –! Beefy men? Really?" Chase mutters, baffled. Stanger danger. Stranger danger. "They could have easily kidnapped you!"

"But they didn't!" Darling defends herself, not feeling any less guilty. "And for the record, they looked harmless when I talked to them –" The look on Chase's face tells Darling otherwise because she had described them so menacingly. "– and their stupid group name reminded me of my old biker gang and of Dex's obsession with Star Wars –"

"And that was enough of a reason to put yourself at risk?" Chase questions. What could gave happened to Darling if she had ended up dead in a ditch somewhere? Or worst, never to be found? Her case could have ended up on Buzzfeed Unsolved thirty years from now for all he knows. "What could you have said to land yourself into this mess? Tell me the exact words you used when you spoke to these guys."

And Darling couldn't help frown at the way Chase had implied the situation, it felt like Chase was blaming her for this. It sort of reminded Darling of her mother, hovering over her and deciding every little thing for her – whom she could talk to, and what she could and couldn't do.

Darling will admit that she did get herself into trouble, but if words could have gotten her into it then words could get her out too. That's how words work. She could say 'no', she had the right to say 'no', and she did and now she was here, waiting to get bandaged up.

Sucking up the sour taste in her mouth, Darling paints the picture of what had happened. "After entertaining me of what the thing on their minivan was, the main guy, their leader, I think, asked me where I was going. He even called me 'little missy' and it was kind of flattering? I didn't mention you but I did mention that I traveled anywhere and that I was heading to drop our bikes off. I guess after explaining that, he kind of got interested."

"Of our bikes?"

"Well, uh, I had used the words 'shipments' to be cool because the thing he had on the minivan was all boxed up and I still had Star Wars on my mind and – uh, yeah, looking back on it now, that must have gotten his attention or something because he went 'Shipment ey? Say, would you mind helping me out? I need to deliver something to a friend of mine in Cuba' and I just –"

"That was the exact words you used? 'Shipments'? Darling, you could have just –" Chase sputters again, unable to finish his words, unable to let her slide or finish her story. "And you – you said 'yes' when he had asked if you could help him out? A total stranger?"

Well, it's not like she hasn't told more deep stuff to people on long airplane rides. But, she gets it. She gets that Chase is totally not on board with the whole stranger thing but – ugh!

You were once a total stranger too, Darling thinks. And I had still agreed to meet you at a bar.

She means, look at them now! They're best friends! Chase should know by now how spontaneous and wild she is! She doesn't have to explain herself but she will to get him off her back!

"They looked friendly." Darling repeats herself.

But were they, though Chase thinks and the expression he makes tells Darling the exact thought. It irks her a little to know that he's doubting her after everything they've gone through together.

Feeling herself swell in girlish anger, Darling says, "You know how I'm always willing to help a friend in need. That's what the White Knight does, Chase."

"But you got in trouble." He points out, truth cutting through her reasoning like a sharp knife.

Not wanting to give up, Darling squeezes the piece of paper in her hand and reddens. "I –! I didn't get to deliver what they asked me to, I threw it away and hightailed out of there as soon as I realised what was happening." She says the next part in an incredible low whisper. "I drove my bike out of a second storey window to escape after I noticed the cops swarm around the warehouse and –"

"You did WHAT?!"

"But the bike is fine, amazing in fact and –"

"You got in trouble with the authority?" He's now whispering just as low after raising his voice a second ago. "You could have – You could have landed yourself in a worse scenario than this. First the sketchy guys and now the police, I –! Honestly? What if you had gotten caught in some grim moment? You could have ended up with more than just a sprain ankle!"

Darling winces. When will this conversation end? When will the hospital staff call her name and number because she's doesn't think she can hold up much longer? Darling can practically feel this conversation snowballing into something else, something regrettable (not that she isn't already regretting this moment).

"Well, I'm not in a worse scenario. I just hurt myself, I'm – I'm alive, aren't I?" She asks thoughtlessly, her slowly rising temper taking hold of her.

"No." Chase shakes his head, standing up, forgetting where he is as he towers over her. "No. You can't say it like that. You don't get to say something like that so carelessly."

One look at the face he's making and Darling immediately wants to swallow her words back. She didn't mean it like that – She didn't … But Chase is right. Darling has no right to say something so carelessly, because words like that hold meaning. Especially in a hospital filled with the sick and the dying, the grieving and the actual dead. She doesn't have the right to say such a statement in front of Chase who's got dead parents and a dead grandmother. How …

How could she forget? She got caught up in being wild and in-the-right that she forgot why Chase was so scared of adventures and the unknown to begin with.

She starts begging for an apology, standing too just so she can catch him and stop him if he leaves. "Chase, I'm sorry –"

"You can be adventurous all you want but would it kill you to be a little more careful next time?" He scolds, it looks like he's struggling to hold himself together. Oh no, is he going to have another episode?

Sensing tension rising, some patients in waiting move away from the two, giving them some privacy. Hospitals are inevitable places for drama to unfold and no one likes to be in the middle of it, and, suddenly, there are three available seats beside Darling but no one's going to sit next to an arguing pair.

Darling feels her throat clog up. "I'm really sorry. I won't do it ever again. I promise. I'm sorry."

"Do I –" Chase sighs deeply, pinching the bridge of his nose before looking up from his hand and glaring at her. He actually looks scary mad. "Do I have to hold your hand through everything just so you won't run off like that?"

It's sudden but enough of a blow to make Darling almost want to clench her jaw. It reminds her too much of her past and how her mother would use to stop her, constricting manicured fingers wrapped around young Darling's wrist.

"I said I'm sorry." Darling repeats herself. It's better for her to say it now while she still means it.

But Chase isn't listening. He's too wrapped up in his own world to really stop worrying about her. "Do I have to be by your side always just so you don't get in trouble?"

Darling feels her fingernails press into her palm as her hands clench into fists. He's treating her like such a child, she's trying to apologize!

"Because I can't do that, Darling. I can't always be here to protect you."

"Well, I don't need protecting. I don't need you holding my hand or any of that," Darling argues now and she's in that state where she's still feeling guilty but also angry. "I'm fine!"

"You – You're fine? Are you serious?"

"Yes, I'm fine. I don't need your help. I can take care of myself, I'm not some helpless damsel-in-distress."

Are you really not a damsel-in-distress? Chase thinks as he makes this chocking noise like he can't even think of a word or sound to start his sentence. He's that frustrated.

"Oh really?" He asks, having a strong need to lay down the facts. She can't keep acting like this. It's so unhealthy! "Really? Because it doesn't look like you're 'fine'. In fact, it does look like you're helpless."

This time, it's her turn to sputter.

"Look around, we're in a hospital, waiting to get your foot encased in plaster." Chase states.

"Really? You're. going. there?" She can feel her patience thinning.

"Look at you. Look at yourself." He hisses, running his hands through his dark hair. "You won't be able to walk anywhere without needing clutches."

"Rub in it, why don't you?" Darling bares her teeth, she's boiling with anger. "I don't need you to hover over me, Chase. You're always so worried about every little thing, you're so – it's so –" She fumbles with her words.

"What?" Chase asks. He's feeling so furious that she's still squabbling with him when he's trying to knock some sense into her. Look at the consequences!

"It's so annoying and so unnecessary." Darling finishes her words. She knows she's acting like a spoiled brat but she just. can't. stop.

And for a moment, just a moment, he thinks: Babied – that's what she is. A wild child. Stubborn.

He almost mocks her as he asks her, "Are you tired of the stick up my ass?"

"Yes." Darling grounds, meeting the stormy rage in his eyes. Since when have inside jokes turn to ammunition for arguments? "Yes, it's always gotten on my nerves. You say you're not afraid of a challenge yet you cower over anything exciting that ever turns your way."

"Exciting?" He could almost laugh at this conversation. "You think risking your life is exciting?"

"Maybe!" Because she's uncertain herself but the way she had said it – the way she had said it!

"You know," Chase says, not holding back either since Darling isn't. "For someone who likes freedom so much, it looks like you're in the opposite situation of what you say you're in. It's not that you won't be able to go anywhere, it's that you can't go anywhere." And Darling blanches. "You did this to yourself. You've trapped yourself."

Darling visibly gasps and her eyes flutter in response, wide with shock. He's gone too far and she won't allow Chase to see the expression on her face. Moving away and turning her face sharply, Darling makes it her sole aim to not look at him ... only for her ponytail slap in him the face.

Fuck, damn it!

For a single second, he sputters, not knowing if she had done it on purpose or not. But then Darling whips around, conflicted, and one look from her face tells him that she's about to utter an apology again … only to hold it back.

That single action simmers down his anger a little. He knows she didn't mean to do it on purpose, but ... she's too angry to say 'sorry'.

Sighing, Chase sits back down and groans into his hands. He can't believe they're fighting (and he can't believe no one has told them to shut up yet for disturbing the peace).

Of course, Chase and Darling have had fights before. What kind of friends would they be if they didn't? They've had a bunch of "You're going the wrong way" arguments and "I told you so" arguments and small petty ones like "Did you eat my chips?" "Yeah but you can have some of mine." "You know I hate salt and vinegar chips. Stop eating my snacks." "We can share!" "I don't want to share, you know I don't like your snacks. Stop. Eating. My. Snacks." but not like this, never like this.

Taking this as a cue, Darling sits down too. And it's a good thing that she does because the weight of standing up was seeiously taking a toll on her hurt foot. Heavens above, why is the hospital so packed with people? Will she ever get to see a doctor for her injury?

"Look," Chase says, taking the first step to fixing their fight. "I'm sorry. I … I get that you were trying to apologize and I forgive you but … you really need to think things through. The world is dangerous, filled with bad people and bad timing. After everything that's happened … honestly … you're probably be stuck in a cast and on crutches for awhile while I'll be going here and there trying to get things in order. I'll have to return our bikes and call the company and set our schedule back for a couple of months to make sure your foot gets fully healed. It's … a lot to do."

"So what are you saying?" Darling asks, daring Chase to say something he won't mean. "Are you saying I'm a burden?" She blinks her blue eyes; blue like starlight, blue like periwinkle flowers, blue like sadness.

"No. No, never. I'm just saying, you don't think of the consequences. I mean – God, Darling! A sprained ankle is very lucky considering the what you've told me. You could have ended up with worse injuries –" or dead "– but you're acting like it was no big deal and I … can't wrap my head around it."

"I'm not trying to make things more complicated than it is. I just thought I could, maybe, you know, push through it. You're just treating me like I'm some delicate flower and I hate it."

"Dear Lord, I don't want to fight you on this, Darling, please."

"Then, don't." Darling answers, cutting him off. "Don't fight me on this."

"Will you please listen?" Chase begs, feeling a pulse on his forehead. A headache might be blooming. Have they gone back to fighting? Why is she trying so hard to put herself in more danger when she should be resting and taking things slow?

"I can manage, okay, Chase?" Darling speaks, trying to reason (and perhaps even weasel) her way out of it. She's so stubbornly persistent. "You don't have to call the company or return the bikes yet. I'll manage it. I'm a tough girl, I can –"

"Darling Charming," He says with a strong voice that reminds Darling of how he can be. Not controlling, not bossy or begging for attention. But authoritative.

And suddenly, this wave crashes over her. Authority. Darling's dealing with authority. She's a girl trying to run freely but is chained to her ankle with rules and regulations.

Did she really think she could do whatever she wants with Chase around? They're opposites. They clash too much. Why did she think this was ever a good idea? Because he was there for her when her brothers and parents and friends weren't? Because he was kind and she wanted to be kind back by making him live his life to the fullest? Because he reminded her of home?

... Home.

Darling swallows. "If I'm so much of a nuisance." She says and dares not cry. "Then I guess I should just go home."

Chapter Text

the sleepless elite


chapter nineteen


 


Cinderella looked at the man in the eyes as they stood in a crowded market and said to him, "I doubt if he [this stranger] has any idea how a girl should be treated."

"Like a princess, I suppose." The Prince in disguise answered, quite enchanted by her. Breathless, even.

"No," Cinderella shook her head. "Like a person, with kindness and respect."

– Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella (1997)


The silent that stretches on after Darling had said that single sentence felt like it could have lasted for an eternity … but, it doesn't. Thank God, it doesn't.

Because Chase speaks, blurting out his words mostly in shock. With his eyes blinking in confusion, Chase echoes the word that had stood out to him the most, "Home?"

And Darling doesn't dare meet his gaze. She looks at her shoes and the ugly floor design of the hospital and the beaten-out waiting chair she's sitting on but not at Chase. Anywhere but in Chase's general direction.

"Is this a permanent decision?" He asks again, he wants to make sure he's hearing that right. He wants to know that he's not imagining things or just making things up. He hopes that he's not losing his mind because he's feeling something swelling (maybe that's just the headache coming?). He asks, "You want to go home?"

She's leaving him for a long time. Possibly forever?

No. Never. Darling's heart whispers but she doesn't tell him this. Darling knows friends tend to bicker and nag at each other from time to time, but this isn't a fight, it's a Goddamn life lesson.

"Please answer my question. Tell me your honest opinion." Chase says. He has this tone in his voice that tells Darling he's insisting he won't be the first one to raise his voice, but this conversation is still going and it might escalate again.

She doesn't want to go but she knows she owes him some kind reaction so she nods her head.

In a small, unsure voice, he asks, "Are you sure you're not overreacting?"

If she wasn't so keen on ignoring his gaze, she would have glared at him.

Chase mutters, "It's just that you … you have this mindset, okay? You have this certain mindset and it's …"

"Annoying?" She asks.

"No. No." Chase shakes his head. "You just think that whenever someone tries to stop you, it's to constrict you but it's not."

"Except that it is."

Chase swallows down the need to sigh. Oh boy, a storm is coming.

"You don't know the people in my life, Chase. I've told you about them but it's different from experiencing them in real life. Stories and real life … you can't compare the two. Most of the people I've met, they're all just so uptight, they don't let me do things, they really are trying to constrict me! My mother sent me away to boarding school for five years because she didn't like who I was."

Chase winches but answers anyway, "I know,"

"Really?" She asks. "Because if you really know then you should be on my side."

"I'm not on anyone's side. I'm just trying to undersrand."

"What's there not to understand?" Darling says. She's not blind, she knows how her mother treats people. She knows about Daring, her own brother, and how he feels about their mother. She knows how her mother can be on her own children. "I was never allowed to stay at Book End for long because my mother didn't want my brothers to undo what the school has worked 'so hard for'. I almost never had a day to myself, I was always monitored. I couldn't really do what I wanted, my schedule was always packed, my mother would fill it up with classes from languages to decorum. There was always something for me to do and those things weren't even things I wanted to do. I just did it because if I didn't someone would tell my mother and I'd end up listening to her rant for hours on end. It was a bigger time waster than doing the things I was forced to do. I was always watched." Darling was really getting riled up by the memories of her past.

Chase only stays quiet. He can't really says he understands now. He knows of the events but … he would have preferred it that way then spending hours of his youth alone in that big old house. Being sent to a school where you're always accompanied by either staff or kids around his age felt like a dream. Being surrounded by people, having potential to strike up a conversation with just about anyone. Being busy …

He asks her, "Has it's never crossed your mind that they do it because they're scared?"

"Scared of what?" Darling mutters, feeling angry. "Me?"

Chase whips his head to look at her again. "No, why would you think that?" He knows he was just talking about her 'constricting' issue but ...

Darling lets out a sigh. "They sent me away and kept me away." And now she's the one keeping herself away and then threatening to leave. "What was I supposed to think?"

"They're not scared of you, they're scared for you." Chase says, feeling that this is the truth. He's mostly saying this because he doesn't want negatives thought to consumer her and because he's scared that she'll fold like a lawn chair. "I think … they're just trying to keep you down and wrestle some reason into you because they genuinely care for you. They don't want you to end up hurt."

"Stop – Just stop."

"Stop what?"

"Stop that."

"Darling –"

"You're acting like my mother. You're making me bad for being who I am." Darling tries to make herself small, to melt and disappear. "Do you really think I want to go home?" She finally answers, whispering this part out and even Chase recoils from the fact.

It's silent – again. They stay like that for a moment, with him looking at her and her not looking at him. They're not seeing eye to eye. Being the polar opposite of each other does that at times. The only thing holding them together like a badly made get-well card is their need to try.

Chase ties to piece things together as the two avoid each other. He understands the situation to a certain degree. It's not to say that Darling hates her mother. She just doesn't bond with her mother well. It's almost a dislike, in fact. And if Darling is comparing Chase to her overbearing mother then ... that may just say something about how Darling feels about Chase.

Chase can only wring his hands together. He feels ... hurt but also guilty. He didn't mean to bring this part of Darling out.

And after a gruelling minute of silence, Chase breaks it. He doesn't want anymore tension to build up. It's kind of ridiculous that they're getting on each other's nerves now after two and a half years of spending time together.

"I'm not your mother, Darling." Chase says slowly, he's walking on eggshells. "I will never be her. I'm not going to send you away."

Darling feels herself blink back tears.

Chase tells her, exposed and gentle, "You know how I feel about people leaving and long trips."

Your mom. Darling thinks and Chase seemed to have read her mind.

"Yes, my mom. I'm not trying to be your mother and I'm not going to treat you like how I treated my mom either. I know we have a lot of mom issues, wish we didn't but … I'm just trying to say I'm not scared of you going home for a bit or forever. I'm not trying to confine you to me or our work slash trip around the world. I know you; you're adventurous, you like thrills and challenges. But, damn, that doesn't mean I won't get worried for you when you're not careful."

Darling immediately feels bad and refuses to say anything, afraid she'd ruin it. She didn't mean it that way. She never wants to hurt Chase in anyway, she just doesn't get tied down. It's not that she can't be told 'no' or refused. It's just that when someone tells her off from doing something, she hears "you can't do that" instead of "you shouldn't so that". She can't because it's forbidden to her, not because anything she does is a wicked thing or harmful. She's just not allowed to do it. But she wants too. So very much. She just wants to be herself, grow and experience life and learn from her mistakes, is that so horrible? Is that so hard to understand?

"I'm sorry." Darling says, apologizing before the guilt eats her alive. "I just don't like you treating me so delicately. I don't like people thinking I'm some ditzy blonde, spoiled princess. I've told you this before so I just don't get why you're still treating me so softly like I don't know left from right."

Chase bites his cheek before talking. "Look," He says and touches her wrist – gently – asking her to not be afraid and to do as he had asked; to look at him.

Darling lifts her eyes from her sprained ankle, pulling her gaze up his arm to the side of his face and then his eyes. His eyes ... are so blue. Sometimes she thinks he can look at her and read her soul, saying things she didn't even know she wanted to hear.

He's leaning in a little as he opens his mouth to speak, making sure he's at least at eye level with her. He doesn't want to make her feel intimidated by his height or anything, though he knows she will never be scared of him.

Chase says, "I'm sorry. I really am. But, Darling, you need to stop thinking of yourself as princess that's about to be kidnapped and trapped against her will. I treat you gently not because I think you're delicate. But because you're a person. And a person can be vulnerable, people can break." (As evidence with her hurt ankle) "And that's the last thing I want. So, I'm sorry, okay? I'm sorry for thinking less of you to the point that you think I'm smothering you like your mother."

She doesn't say anything in return though she will admit, Darling's feeling better. But she's also feeling too much, thoughts running through her head. There are too many emotions for her to decide which one she feels the most. But, she thinks, the strongest, it hints of regret. She regrets comparing Chase to her mother. She regrets wanting to leave him to go back a place she knows she will hate.

Chase drops his hold on her hand and then swallows, his Adam's apple bobbing, "I … I'm making things worse, aren't I? You look conflicted. If you want me to leave –"

Her hand reacts, catching his sleeve. It's funny how earlier, she didn't even want to look at him and now she doesn't want to let him go. She looks at him – really looks at him – and suddenly notes how stress is treating him. He looks like he's aged in a matter of an hour over what's happening between them.

"Don't do that." Darling says like a warning. "Don't say you'll leave."

"But, it's better than you leaving."

A feeling hits Darling like a truck. The tables have been turned, and, this time, she does cry.

Chase's guiltiness goes up twice fold. "Oh God, I made you cry."

"No, no, you didn't." She shakes her head, hiding her face with her long hair. "I'm just emotion and moody, okay? It's not – I'm not … It's my ankle. I'm speaking mostly out of pain and panic. I –" She clenches her hand around his arm. "I don't know what I'm thinking. I'm a mess, don't take anything I said earlier seriously. I'm not angry at you, I'm angry at myself for landing in this situation. You're telling me all these things and I just can't take it at this moment. But please, please I would be so sad if you left me. I'm not leaving."

"You're not?"

"Of course, not. I would never willingly leave." Darling answers. "Can we just find a truce after I get meds to sooth my pain? We'll figure things out later, alright? Make a plan, sort things out. You don't have to stop working just because I'm injured. I feel horrible already saying that because you'll have to work alone but I don't want your salary being cut because of me."

"I don't care about the money." Chase replies, he means it.

"Then why do you work so hard? And don't say because you like being busy, I've known you for ages and I still think that's a lame excuse!"

"You know me so well. But, yeah, I just like being busy." He says then smiles. "And because I really like bikes."

"Nerd," She grin back.

"Hmm," When you've been friends for a certain number of years, arguments can dissolve as quickly as they come.

"Let's ... not fight like that again. Especially not in public." Darling says in low whisper. She had already made a similar mistake a few years ago when she had let her anger win and chose to ignore her brothers over their semester break. The aftermath was her regretting and missing her brothers even more. Sibling fights can be repaired, but true friendships are hard to come by, let alone keep.

"Okay," He agrees. He hopes he can keep this promise.

The screen above the counter blinks and Darling's number flashes. Chase and Darling notes several people around them sigh in relief, glad from the dwindling drama. Chase stands up first before offering help to Darling – such a gentleman, but Darling only rolls her eyes.

She says to him after accepting his help, "Maybe we can take a break after the doctors gives me a sick leave? And I mean a proper break. You know how I like spending time with you. We can take the opportunity to really explore the place, be real tourist instead of only having a limited time to look around." Darling suggests on a light note.

"Sounds fun," Chase admits. Ultimately, he's just glad she's not leaving.

Chapter Text

the sleepless elite


chapter twenty


 


"How do you feel?" Chase asks; it's been hours since dinner, hours since candles have been blown and hours since pieces of birthday cake have been devoured.

"Old!" Darling yells over the music. She smiles and looks almost otherworldly in the lighting with glitter thrown in her silver curls and face lightly brushed with make-up to look prettier.

He can't help but laugh at this. "You're not even at the peak of your twenties yet."

"So?" She replies cheekily.

It's funny, Chase thinks, because he was twenty-one when he first met Darling and he remembers feeling tired even then, which, he will admit is strange. Wasn't he was supposed to be at the prime of his life or something?

"Wait until you're twenty-four then tell me how you feel!" Chase tells her, grinning.

"I will!" She answers and he isn't sure if she's joking or not.

Chase wishes he could say that the tables have turned since Darling used to make fun of him and his maturity and the stick up his ass, but he guesses now Darling knows how what it feels like.

Suddenly a song all 90s kids knows comes on and Darling beams, a gasp slipping through her mouth and her light blue eyes lighting up with joy. That's right kids, it's the duet between Troy and Gabriella from High School Musical (fuckin' sue me).

"Come dance with me!" Darling insists, tugging on Chase's arm towards the crowd.

Chase can't deny that the huge smile decorating her face and the crinkle in her eyes just screams of excitement but ...

"And fall flat on my face? No thanks." Chase says, shaking his head. He leans back in his chair, determined to stay seated.

"You won't fall." Darling says, still insistent and still grasping his arm.

"You know I can't dance." Chase continues denying.

"I know you can." Darling replies, wiggling her eyebrows with her corniness.

"Stop with the HSM references." Chase says which makes her laugh.

"Okay, I know you can't dance but c'mon, live a little, Chase!"

Despite the begging and puppy dog look, Chase stays strong willed. Shaking his head once again, he tells her, "Maybe some other time. You go and enjoy yourself."

Darling pouts but lets go of Chase regardless, she doesn't want to force him into doing anything he didn't want to do. Plus, the song can only last for so long.

"Are you sure?" She asks one last time.

"I'm sure. Go." He answers and with one last tip of his chin, Darling re-joins the dance floor.

She spins, whops and laughs with some girls she had befriended that same night, all while Chase smiles and watches Darling have her fun.

He can't help but get lost in thought.


It's her birthday, she's twenty-one now and he's twenty-four, almost twenty-five. They're celebrating at this eatery place that also serves as a dance floor. Chase doesn't know what to call this place, Darling found it, but there's no obligation for the people here to get roaring drunk to have a good time and Chase enjoy this fact. They're having a fun time and they're dancing (or at least, she is) and he … may or may not be in trouble.

Surprising, ain't it? Chase Redford, in trouble. Two words that couldn't possibly be in one sentence. But it is. And it's happening. It's been happening for a while now, but, Chase thinks … he likes it?

It wasn't intentional, it just … happened.

It happened during the course of the few months Darling had taken to heal her sprained ankle. Chase knew both Darling and him spent a lot of time together but now it's a whole new level. Because before the injury, there were always things like daily needs and alone time and work separating them, even if they did everything in close quarters, because it's how life works. But after the injury, with work just evaporating and free time being thrusted into their hands, they just grew closer; closer than Chase thought they possibly could.

They no longer felt tired from spending too much time together. They no longer felt the need to catch a breather from being in each other's space. They no longer felt the need to disperse at the end of the day or spend me-time in their respective hotel rooms. For the few months of Darling being slightly immobile, they finally slowed down; they tried out more restaurant together and visit museums and watched movies, they stayed indoors and talked a lot and swapped books, told stories and secrets and things in between.

And it didn't stop there when Darling was finally healed, no sire. No, they just spent more time together, eager to do everything before work called in and took more of their time. They went exploring and tried out adrenaline-pumping thrills and did a bunch of activities that pushed them closer together and opened up more facts about one another.

Now, physical contact was a casual, daily thing; fingers wrapped around an arm, a touch on the elbow, his chin on the top of her head. Now, they could almost read each other's minds; there wasn't even a need to ask where they wanted to eat. And now – gosh, wowie – they spend every waking moment together. If Chase had thought there was hardly any personal space before – oh boy, it's a different story if he were to step back and talk to his past self. Now, they no longer felt sick of spending too much time with each other, even after a tiring day. They're comfort level was something else.

He thinks it's obvious where he's going with this, so he'll just come out and say it – he has feelings for Darling Charming. And Chase isn't going to say it's a 'sort of, possibly, maybe' kind of feeling because he had put a lot of thought into this and –!

He knows, he knows he sounds utterly crazy right, okay?! He's known her for – what? – close to four years now? He thought he was going out of his mind too when the realisation smacked him right in the face; it was conveniently timed too, after the doctors pronounced Darling's ankle was fully healed and around the week of her twentieth birthday! The feeling crept up on him, slow at first, but then it snowballed and suddenly Chase was at this point of no return and he just knew he was in love because the feeling didn't ebb for an entire year.

And to be perfectly honest, it's getting annoying. It's getting annoying because he would find himself doing all these ridiculous cheesy things and he's kicking himself for moments spent looking at her for too long and reading into the situation too much and having wild thoughts like 'maybe she likes me back', 'maybe I should tell her', 'maybe things will work out'.

It's not to say that Chase is regretting this crush on Darling because she's one of the best people he's ever met in his life, even if she is stubborn and wild and a little babied at times, but he can't help but feel like he shouldn't have these feelings for her. It's just that …

Chase feels like he's tainting their friendship by having these thoughts of them going on romantic candlelight dinners dates and holding hands and innocently napping together; not that they weren't already eating meals together, holding hands (because Darling has the coldest hands on earth and she likes stealing Chase's warmth which he now finding endearing) or napping together on public transportation and airports (which involves Darling literally blacking out from exhaustion with her head on his shoulder and Chase keeping a watchful eye over her and their surroundings).

It just feels too much for him. Like he knows he has to get it off his chest but he also can't. They've learned a hundred and ten things about each other yet he still can't –


"You've been staring out in space for the past minute! Come and dance!" Darling's voice breaks Chase out of his train of thoughts and he blinks when he feels the familiar tug on his arm.

"You know I can't dance," Chase sputters and pretends his heart isn't hammering loudly in his chest, wanting to pull away before he makes a complete fool of himself.

He tells himself it's because he doesn't want to be labelled someone who can't even do a successful robot. He tells himself it's because he doesn't want people to think he's 'those kinds' who knock into everyone when dancing before tripping over thin air. He tells himself it's because he doesn't want to land on his face in some misfortune. He tells himself all these things because he doesn't want to admit he's been thinking about her again.

Darling looks at him straight in the eye and tells him, "No, that's not it. You're not telling me something."

"Uh," If he were to say 'I don't know what you're talking about', he would totally make it worse.

Darling asks, "Something's on your mind, isn't it?"

Darn, he almost hates it how she reads him so easily. Almost.

"Did you not enjoy the night? Was it the food? Do you have an upset stomach?" She asks.

Oh my God. "No, it has nothing to do with my stomach." Chase answers, shooing that possibility away, though he does feel butterflies in his stomach. "And it's your night, you shouldn't worry about me."

"I don't care if it is my birthday, if I'm worried then I'm worried. I'll worry over you no matter what day it is." She answers. "So what is it?"

"Erm," He chews on the inside of his cheek. Is this a good time to confess? On her birthday? Really? Even if Darling says otherwise. Seems like a disaster idea to ruin and eclipse her special day with something trivial like his feelings. "It's nothing." He lies.

And she knows it because Darling gives him a more meaningful pointed look. "You better tell me."

She's still holding onto him and Chase knows she won't let go. Oh God, Chase knows how pushy Darling can be when she's determined. Darling might get it out of him tonight ... or maybe she won't. Who knows? But, he thinks something embarrassing might happen if he were to confess. Like, maybe Summer Nights might start playing. And ... he doesn't know, but it would be too awfully romantic for him.

"Tell me." She repeats.

'Oh no, I couldn't.' He wants to say. 'I'd rather not.' But she's looking at him with this expectation and he really doesn't want to let her down.

"Well, you see ..." Chase says slowly, feeling his chest tighten and his stomach doing 360 flips. He rubs his wrist to distract himself.

"Uh-huh?"

"There's this thing ..." Chase starts trailing off, voice failing him.

Darling motions to her ear by cupping it, "You need to speak up, the music's getting louder."

He leans in, wishing he didn't have to. Can she notice how red his face is getting? "I just ... kinda have this feeling."

"What feeling? Is it a bad one or a good one?"

"Umm,"

Sonething embarrassing will happen. I just know it. He thinks in his head.

And he is right … kinda … but, it's worst. Because the moment he opens his mouth to imply something, Careless Whisper starts playing and Chase just wants to melt into the ground.

"Honestly?" Chase asks, eyeing the eatery's speakers.

"Chase –?" But Darling's cut short. She feels her phone vibrate in the pocket of her jeans and fishes out the darn thing while Chase seizes the moment to secretly thank whoever's out there watching over him.

"Who is it?" Chase asks, playing off his nervousness.

Light blue eyes blink at her screen before Darling mouths, 'My mother,'

'Oh,' Chase mouths back. Chase understands if Darling would want to step away from their conversation to take the call. With time difference and the lack of cell reception, it's always a miracle to receive a phone call that's conveniently timed. With that being said, he motions for Darling to take the call.

"You sure?" Darling asks, feeling like she's repeating herself.

"Yeah."

Darling pauses, letting her phone ring for another two seconds before she bobs her head, grateful for his understanding nature, then changes direction and begins walking towards a quieter place to speak with the older woman.

"Hello?" Darling answers, she knows the time difference between here and Book End is at least seven hours ahead so she knows her mother isn't waking up in the middle of the night to tell her anything drama worthy. However, Darling still feels uneasy.

"Dar –?"

"Mother?" Darling repeats, not catching her mother's greeting. Darling raises her voice over the music and pressing her hand over an ear so that she can hear better.

"– ling? Can you hear me?" Her mother's voice asks over the phone.

"Yes," Darling replies, grabs her white Winter coat from the coat rack and hurries out the doors, hoping for a quieter place to speak to her mother. She steps out of the building, closing the door behind her. The night suddenly fell silent with smothered music.

"Good." Mrs Charming says. "I need you to listen to me."

And for a moment, Darling feels her stomach knot. She hopes its just the adrenaline of dancing. She hopes this is nothing but a phone call to wish her a happy birthday. She hopes her mother squeezes out a genuine 'Happy twenty-first birthday, my darling' then talks about the weather at Book End and how much the family misses her and how she's grown into a young lady. She hopes it's nothing more. It's not even the end of the day yet.

"Mother, you sound ... Is something wrong?" Darling asks, tugging on her silver-blonde curls.

There is a pause ... and then an answer, "I need you to come home, Darling."

Chapter Text

the sleepless elite


chapter twenty-one



Twenty solid minutes passes, and Darling shows no signs of entering the eatery. Chase thought, worst case scenario, Darling had been kidnapped. Best case scenario, her call with her mother was simply dragging on for too long. Either way, Chase had decided to grab his bright red coat, wrap his black scarf around his neck and poke his head out the doors to see if she was alright.

"Hey, you've been gone for a while, I started to get worried," Chase says, cracking the same door Darling had closed behind her minutes ago.

He finds Darling wrapped warmly in her white Winter coat with no cell phone in sigh. She was simply leaning her back against a wall, looking up at the night sky. Her blue eyes seem a little dim as if something was stolen from her and she looked defeated.

"Are you okay?" Came Chase's voice, soft as the night. He shoved his hands into his pockets and hoped for the best.

When Darling didn't answer, Chase took several steps closer. He towered over her like usual, though, his height served as more of comforting feeling than an imposing one.

"Darling?" He calls her, touching her gently by the elbow. He wanted her to know that he was going to keep her safe no matter what.

Slowly, Darling blinks, long lashes fluttering back to reality. "Huh?" She mutters, turning to look at him as if she's just fallen down the rabbit hole.

Chase pulls his hand away from her and asks for a second time, "Are you okay?" He watches Darling bite her lip and her thin eyebrows pluck together. Oh, that's not good.

"Erm," Darling rubs her arm, thinking. "My mother called."

"Okay …?" She had already told him that. And shouldn't that be a good thing given that they hardly have reception?

"She …" Darling trails off, now looking at the ground. It's as if she's waking up from a long sleep, like she can't process reality. Her vision … her vision is getting blurry. "My mother wants me to come home."

His heart drops. What? "She wants you to come home now? Did something happen?"

"N – No, not right now. And nothing happened." Her blonde curls comes tumbling down her shoulder as she shakes her head. Darling explains, "At least, nothing's happening yet. My mother says I'm grown now and that she wants me back at Book End the month Dare and Dex graduates. She thinks it's best I return and start thinking about taking over the family news station with my brothers."

Oh.

"What about your job?" He asks. It is her dream job after all.

"She wants me to quit." Darling asks, voice impossibly small. It's a tiny sound. Not even the birthday texts from her brothers and the members of the sleepless elite could cheer her up at this point.

Oh.

Well, this birthday blows.

Chase looks at Darling and thinks, this is the tiniest he's ever seen her; all folded and crossed arm. He wants to do so many things to see her smile again. He wants to wrap his scarf around her and drape his jacket over her shoulders to shield her from the world; he wants to make her a warm drink and tell her she's going to be okay; make her laugh and wipe her tears away. He wants to do all that, if he wasn't so scared that she'd flinch and curl further into her shell.

"Can't you change your mother's mind?" Chase asks, the words come tumbling out of his mouth before he can even think of the meaning behind it or the consequences.

Darling's eyes snaps from the ground and towards Chase's face. "No." She says, voice shaking. "No, I can't. And that's the saddest part. My mother's always decided things for me. She's the one who sent me to that far away school, she's the one who forced me to take Summer classes so I couldn't come home. She decides everything. Whatever she says, it's law. She had separated me from my brothers from a very young age, she's not afraid to separate me from this job too. She's not afraid of taking the things I love away from me."

Chase only stayed quiet, knowing there was no other way out. Mrs Charming sounded like the type of woman to rule over her children with an iron fist.

"I know what you're thinking," Darling says, voice still small. "You're thinking 'Why don't you fight her? It's your life'. Well, I already did. I really had to fight tooth and nail to spend my senior year at Ever After High. Even then, I thought I had made a horrible decision when Apple broke up with me, I really rushed into that relationship."

Darling was throwing a little pity party for herself and Chase hated that he couldn't change anything about it.

She grips her elbows tightly, trying to make her body small, trying to disappear into the corner of the night. "Sometimes I think, 'Wow, everything I do just won't cut it, will it? No happy ending, just bad outcomes'," Darling sighs, still holding onto herself. "I mean … I've had some upsides. The White Knight and the sleepless elite … they really helped. Back then, they were my only forms of freedom. It all started with the White Knight, really. If I hadn't gotten my hands on it, I wouldn't have been able to go where I wanted or befriended my friends … or met you." She smiles a sad smile. "I almost didn't get the bike though, my mother thought it was unlady-like for me to ride such a dangerous thing. But I begged her, it became a birthday gift. And I was happy."

Darling looks up at the night sky once again and takes in a deep inhale of cold air, watching her breath cloud.

"And now I'm here and the White Knight is stored in Bagel Guy's garage and most of my friends are scattered around the world doing who knows what." And I'm about to lose you too, Chase. "I … I don't think I can ask for anything else from my mother. The bike, the gap year, this job … I think I've run out of leeway." Darling laughs, it was bitter sounding. "It was nice while it lasted though. I guess it is time I slave away thirty years of my life; talking about the weather while I sit in front of a camera and telling people of the events happening around the world I can no longer travel. It was dumb of be to think that I could find an alternative anyway."

"I'm sorry." Chase says. It was the only thing he thought he could say. "I'm really sorry."

He hears her sniff and watches her blink back tears. He hasn't seen her cry since she sprained her ankle. That's been a year plus since (though it seemed like a lifetime ago).

"Do you need a hug?" Chase asks, remember years ago when Darling was in a similar state of sadness. He thinks now she's more comfortable to be touched as she's vented out her feelings.

"Yes, please." She weeps and doesn't even hesitate to throw her arms around his middle and cry into his chest.

He pats her back in return, uttering comforting words only for her to hear and holds her like he's trying to keep her soul, body and mind in one piece. It's hard seeing her cry, he didn't want to see her cry the first time and he didn't want to see her cry those other times either. But, it seemed like every time he thinks this would be the last time he'd see Darling shed a tear, the universe decides to prove them both wrong and throw another reason for her to be sad.

"When do your brothers graduate?" Chase asks softly into her blonde curls, resting his chin on the top of her head.

"In a few months." Darling sniffs. "July."

"That's … That's five months away." Chase says, realisation striking him once again in the face. The force is as strong as when he found out he was falling for Darling.

"I know." She whispers, shaking, arms tightening around him. "I'm sorry. You know I would never leave unless it was completely necessary."

"Hey, hey, there's no need to apologize. It's not your fault." Chase answers, rubbing soothing circles on her back. Darling's already facing a world-wind of emotion, there's no need to pressure her even more.

What was he thinking earlier? Confessing? Honestly. Chase decides it's best to keep his mouth shut and enjoy the remaining time they'll have together. What good would come anyway from telling her his feelings? Darling practically brother-zoned and best friend-zoned him to oblivion. What are the likely chances she'll return his feelings? Practically zero, that's the answer.

Chapter Text

the sleepless elite


chapter twenty-two


 


"Can you boys hear me?" Mrs Charming asks, eyeing her laptop screen as she watches her two sons, Daring and Dexter, sit in front of the respective laptops.

"Yes, Mother." Dexter answers, sitting perfectly straight in his swivelling chair, while Daring gives a half-hearted nod of the head.

"Daring?" Mrs Charming calls, raising an eyebrow at her eldest son. "I need you to answer me. Use your words, I raised you better than that."

Even through a screen and having hundreds of miles separating the two, Daring could feel his mother's stare. He swallows the urge to roll his eyes, runs his tongue against his teeth in frustration and sits up right too; all while Dexter watches the building tension with an anticipation. Dexter's used to being the middle man by now, but, it's still a tiring job.

"Yes, Mother." Daring answers, mimic's Dexter's reply.

"Good."

Though group texting and normal phone calls were the usual norm between the Charming family, Mrs Charming tends to have need to see her children as up close and personal via a phone or laptop screen, which was, unfortunately as overbearingly normal as can be.

"You don't have anyone around, do you?" She continues asking. "I would like to keep the conversation between family."

The boys spoke in unison.

"No, I'm alone." Dexter answers while Daring says, "I'm in a private meeting room in the library."

"Perfect, I have some news that I would like you two to listen to." Mrs Charming clears her throat and pushed a lock of brown hair behind her ear, sounding as important as she can be. She says to her boys, "I've decided that it's time for Darling to stop travelling the world and come home."

This piece of news causes both Daring and Dexter to stare back in confusion – blue eyes fluttering with confusion and jaws dropping.

Decided? Decided? Didn't she even ask?

Daring speaks up first, knowing despite Dexter's protective nature for his twin, the brunette boy would never try to defy their mother's words. Daring asks, "Does Father know about this?"

Mrs Charming smooths out her hair again and replies, "No. But, I'm sure he'll agree with me."

Daring feels his jaw click and his teeth clench. He knows as the oldest Charming child, he's been groomed from a very young age to take over Charming Co. but Daring had always imagined there were at least possibilities for the twins. Either to join him too or to pave their own future. However, Daring had always expected the latter, thinking the twins would have some choice in the family business, unlike him.

Daring continues asking, knowing Dexter would be too timid to oppose their mother, "Does Darling have any say in this?"

"No." His mother replies, short and not-as-sweet as her lovely face hardens around the edges.

Oh, Daring knows damn well what that look meant. That look meant that she's about to put her foot down, have the last say in the fresh argument before it escalates.

"So, what you're saying is, she didn't have a choice?" Daring asks a second time, clarifying this factor. He stares at the screen and watches Dexter's expression, his face was swimming with emotions. Dexter looked conflicted.

"Yes, she doesn't have a choice but Darling knows her responsibility as a member of the Charming family. I've already told her months ago and she hasn't called back since to argue about it." The older woman utters.

"Months ago?" Dexter parrots. Oh, is this why he's been feeling his twin senses tingling all this while? He knows it hasn't been working as well as he wanted to but still … why didn't Darling say anything? Even if she couldn't call, a text would be fine. Didn't she know her heartbreak was his heartbreak too?

"Yes, Dexterous." Then Mrs Charming tries to explain her reasoning behind it, "Boys, don't you think we've babied Darling enough? She's twenty-one years old, she should stop acting childish."

Everything in Daring's body screams at his mother's words. This plan – it sounded horrible. And he was not having it. Maybe it was the years from the family or it was just him generally growing up, but, Daring's tired of being pushed around.

"Don't you think that's a bit much coming from you, Mother?" Daring says.

"Pardon?" His mother says, a code word for Daring to take his words back.

Dexter feels himself sweat. Oh, this is not good. He signals for his older brother to stop but Daring only thought, Fine. I can play mind games too!

Daring damn well knows how Darling's already crushed from getting her heart broken and having her little freedom taken away from her. Now that he's older, Daring has come to realise that, when Mrs Charming had sent Darling away to that boarding school, not only had it confined his sister to a place with rules and no escape, the decision had also ripped Darling away from her brothers. It was unfair! And he was going to use this factor!

Daring licks his lips and forces the condesending smirk from his face, "I mean, considering how it was you being the one that began babying her. First by letting her have anything she wanted then praising her for her skills then sending her to an elite all girls boarding school?"

At this, his mother's face hardens further and Dexter's face falls into a shocked one; wide eyed and open mouthed. Daring, however, does not stop there. Years of rage and being pushed into a future he doesn't want anything to do with finally comes out in a form of determination to turn this conversation around.

"You'll ruin her, Mother. You'll ruin Darling." Daring says. Darling had specifically told Daring how she trusted him when she had landed in Amsterdam all those years ago and he can't just betray her on that!

"D – Daring Florian Charming, how dare you say that to me?!" His mother sputter, looking scary even through the screen. "I am doing this for the best of the Charming family!"

Daring punches his desk in growing anger, making things jump. He will not have fingers pointed at him! He knows his mother and he knows what he's doing! "No, you're this from yourse –!"

"Dare, stop!" Dexter cuts in, finally speaking up and turning his brother and mother's attention back to him. "Mother, please, Darling loves her job. Can't you reconsider? Please consider."

"No, my decision is final. You two need to stop protecting her over every little thing."

"We're her brothers!" Daring rages, stabbing his finger against his desk.

"And I'm her mother! Her parent, her legal guardian!"

"You can't just force Darling to stop." Dexter reasons further.

"I can and I will." His mother blinks her blue eyes, relentless and unforgiving. "Dexterous, the average person changes their full-time job two or three times in their lifetime. You can't expect for Darling to keep these shenanigans up; traveling around the world, riding bicycles, having fun with her friend. It's all child's play, it's not serious."

"They're not bicycles, they're professional made motorcycles and you'll ruin her." Daring repeats, speaking carelessly again. "Darling loves her job!"

"And I love her!" His mother justifies.

"Really, Mother? Do you really love her or are you afraid that her choice of career would reflect badly on the Charming name?"

His mother gasps and Dexter shouts, trying to be the middle man yet again, "Dare, please stop! Don't do this, we'll find another way to talk about this! We'll give Darling more time, maybe one of us can get a masters and prolong working at Charming Co.?!"

But Daring doesn't stop. No, he does the opposite, he dives even deeper. Daring threatens, "Mother, if you make Darling quit her dream job, I'll drop out of college!"

"Dare, no!" Dexter blanches.

Mrs Charming looks livid at this threat. "You wouldn't!"

"I would!" Daring says, all while Dexter helplessly watched the drama unfold. "I'm on campus right now and there's nothing you can do to stop me from marching down to the registration office and telling the staff about my leave!" His mother gasps again, loud and almost in pain, while Daring continues, "I can settle this all in one day! And after that, I'll call Father and tell him of what you've done!"

"You wouldn't dare!" She shouts, clutching her heart.

"I would!" Daring repeats, feeling power for once in his life. He's going to save his sister if it's the last thing he does; be a knight in armour and saving the day. "You know how much Father wants me to follow in his footsteps. You know how much this means for him; for me graduate from this business school. Can you imagine what he'd say if he found out I dropped out because of you?"

"Do you honestly think I would allow you to drop out?" His mother challenges and Dexter felt the need to faint. This argument was the worst he's ever been involved with.

"Of course not!" Daring laughs, a hauntingly strong one. There's not a quiver in his tone, it's full of triumph. "But, even if you somehow stop me, I still have my dissertation up my sleeve, I'll purposely fail and you know how Father would take it if he found out why."

Dexter clutches onto his head while Daring's smile never faltered. Daring swears he hasn't seen his mother this angry since Darling tore up her favourite silk pillows with her teeth, the final straw that sent her away. Her face was red with fury and he could practically hear a growl emit from the back of her throat.

"Then what do you propose? I just let Darling continue riding bicycles all her life? Forever?" Mrs Charming asks.

"Motorcycles." Dexter's the one to correct his mother this time. "And … I have a solution that might satisfy all three of us."

Two pair of blue eyes slide to Dexter's side of the screen.

"Mother, I gave this solution to you a few years ago. Do you remember that year off I offered?" Dexter asks. He sounded uncertain but something in his heart spoke otherwise.

His blonde older brother only blinks, not understanding, but his mother seemed to have clicked on what Dexter was saying.

She asks, "You want me to use your year off to add a year to Darling's working life?"

"Yes." Dexter nods.

"Do it, Mother." Daring says, voice popping back into the conversation. He sees his mother's lovely features screw up again but she doesn't challenge him on this.

"Fine." Mrs Charming snaps. "I'll give Darling Dexterous's year off."

"And mine too." Daring adds before his mother utters the final say. Oh, now he's just being spiteful. The blonde watches her jaw clench. Sometimes he really hates how he's able to pinpoint their facial similarities. Does he really look that way when he's angry? "You'll give Darling two more years."

"T – Two years? Are you mad, child? You're letting her waste her life away!"

"Mother,"

"Fine!" She agrees, reluctant but defeated. "I'm going to end this call now before I get even angrier. Or worse, more wrinkles!" Mrs Charming grounds then poof – she taps the 'end call' button and her side of the screen goes blank.

Not even a second passes and Dexter practically folds like a lawn chair, collapsing into his seat and letting out a sigh of relief.

"Holy shit!" The brunette curse, sliding his hand through his hair before rubbing it all over his face. "That was intense! I can't believe you just said that to Mother!"

"I know." Daring answers, collapsing into his chair too, though, there's a happy smile on his face.

"Honestly, what was that? That was … amazing? And scary. Did you really have to pull that card out? You weren't serious, were you?"

"I was actually considering telling Mother that you would drop out too if she wouldn't believe me."

"Oh my God. You were serious." Dexter answers, biting his lower lip before realising something. "Wait … I thought you had submitted your dissertation a couple of days ago?"

Daring merely adjust his smile, now looking sheepish. "Minor details, dear bother, Mother doesn't need to know that."

"You … You're amazing, I don't think I'll ever stop thinking of you that way." Dexter says, spinning in his swivelling chair. He's dizzy, but it's not from the spin. Talk about information overload. "You've really grown up. You were really brave, braver than I've ever seen you."

"I have to live up to my name,"

Dexter snorts and rolls his eyes, "Yeah, suuure. You do that."

"But, please, don't let that stop you from saying other nice things about me. Praise me more." Daring tells Dexter, resembling his usual flamboyant self.

"What? No way!"

Daring only laughs more. "Tell me I'm the best."

"Okay, I think the power's going to your head. I should end this call before you decide to ask for the impossible."

"But, didn't I already do that?" Daring says cheekily.

"That's enough for today. I need to lay on my bed and process everything. Maybe talk to Raven, I don't know." Dexter says.

"Didn't Mother say to keep the conversation in the family?" Daring asks.

"Like you won't tell Rosabella and Briar."

"Touche."

But just before Dexter ends the video call, he looks at his brother one more time and says, "Hey, uh, Dare?"

"Yeah?" Daring pauses, still smiling brightly. He's still proud of what he's said and done. And he should be.

"Uh, thanks. A lot. You really looked out for Darling." Dexter speaks out before things get wrapped up.

Daring smiles, a wide toothy one; it's not practiced, it shows real emotions. Proud emotions. "It's my job, bro. I'll look out for the both of you for as long as I can."


"Chase!" The twenty-one year old dressed in lavender pyjamas shouts, not even bothering to whisper.

The man in question feels a pair of hands shake him, small but powerful, shaking him like a house during an earthquake. He groans loudly and attempts to swat the hands away.

"Go away, Darling." Chase says, he doesn't even need to ask who it is, he already has experience of Darling disturbing his sleeping pattern.

"Chase, wake up!"

"Wha –" Cracking open an eye, Chase notes how his room was still pitch black. Why was Darling waking him up in the middle of the night? "The sun's not even out yet. What time is it?"

"Two AM." She answers, voice unnaturally giddy and happy.

"How did you get into my room – wait, you know what? Never mind, don't answer that. Why are you waking me up so early, go back to your room and sleep."

But Darling only shakes her head. In the dark, Chase swears he can see her face split into a large grin.

"I can stay," She says, almost breathlessly.

"What …?" Chase murmurs, blinking back his sleepy eyes. He can't seem to connect the words tumbling out of Darling's mouth.

"I can stay! My mother just called me, she told me she changed her mind, I don't have to quit my job! I can stay for another two years!" She squeals and jumps on his bed in excitement.

"Oh my God!" He gasps, finally putting two and two together. His blue eyes fluttery open, he's fully awake now and freaking out too. "Are you serious? You're not pranking me, are you?"

"Of course, I'm serious, why would I prank you?!"

Chase sits up, suddenly fuelled with energy. He wants to scoop her up in a tight hug, tell her congratulations and never let go. But it's all clumsy since his room is dark and they can't make out much. Fingers grasp thin air by mistake before hands collide against shoulders and the side of each other's heads. It's hard to hug when they can't see each other. They can't celebrate properly but it's okay because they're laughing and whooping in the corner of the night. They're both wrapped up with glee and excitement, too happy to care that their voices are ringing loudly.

Chase thinks he's never felt happier. His chest feels like it could burst with positive feelings and there are butterflies in his stomach and he just can't help but want to be closer to Darling. He thinks his heart is leading him.

It's too dark to see and suddenly – suddenly – Darling swears she feels a hand on the side of her jaw and something bumping against her lips. It's a feather-light pressure. It feels soft and Darling thinks this is a –

Her hand moves, accidentally striking him in the chest, so powerful it feels kung-fu. Darling sputters, all confused on what had happened, and Chase pulls his hand away from her cheek, lightning fast like he's just realised what he's done. Oh shit!

She asks, "Wait, what was that?"

"Um, what was what?" Chase ask back all while an inner voice in his head screams, What did you do? WHAT DID YOU DO?!

"Did you –" Kiss me? Because I know what kissing feels like.

"I think I elbowed you in the face. Did I?" Chase says quickly, not letting Darling finish her words.

This question seems impossible since there's no way his arm can angle that way but –

"Um, yeah … I think you did." Darling answers, just as quickly, fingers touching her lips, shielding them.

They stay frozen until Chase shifts by accident, causing Darling to jump off the bed and scramble out of his room.

"Anyway, uh, yup, good night! Sleep tight!" Darling mutters and slams the door behind her so loud that she may as well have woken up the entire hall.

"... Night." Chase answers but it's a late comeback because the door's already shut in his face and he thinks this must be a dream because ... well, that was an unexpected turn.

Chapter Text

the sleepless elite


chapter twenty-three


 


Mamma mia, even if I say, "bye-bye, leave me now or never",
Mamma mia, it's a game we play,
Bye-bye doesn't mean forever

– ABBAMamma Mia


The Northern lights are pretty.

"Yeah, they are pretty." Chase says as he sits on his bike, making Darling realise she had just said those words aloud (or maybe he just understands her better, reading her like a rehearsed story?).

The two look up at the sky, shivering a little from the cold. This is … their last stop before Darling returns back to Book End. It's not something Darling wants to think about, but it's inevitable and it makes her heart swell. It's almost funny, she's leaving after she's finally found herself and it's so unfair –

Not wanting the bad thoughts to catch up on her, Darling shakes her head and takes big steps away from Chase and their bikes. "I'm going to take pictures now." Darling announces so that Chase wouldn't get worried that she was distancing herself and pulls out her phone from her pocket.

Chase hums, cheek in hand and eyes now fluttered closed, tired from all the riding. Darling had nagged him to get to this specific spot. She states it's not her fault – the nagging, that is, she's adopted that trait from Chase.

It takes forever but when Darling finally gets the right angle, she snaps away on her phone, wanting to preserve everything. It's good for distracting her thoughts, it makes her focus on other things. Like now; getting just the perfect shot of the sky and their M.A.D. motorcycles. Yes, that's right, the White Knight and Red Knight are here! A little gift of being able to ride their own motorbikes together for the last time before Darling quits and Chase goes solo.

The view is charming – the aurora borealis engulfs everything, leaving nowhere, a beautiful midnight sun. The lights stretch on, as far as Darling's pale blue eyes can see, bathing everything green with hints of red. It feels like someone's casting a magic spell. Darling wonders, if this were true, would it be powerful enough to break curses and grant secret desires? Oh, it'd be better than her snapping wishing bones and blowing on dandelions.

"Chase," Darling calls, lowering her screen just a little from her motorcycle obsessed world. When he doesn't stir, she calls louder, "Chase!"

In response, Chase calls back, "What?!"

"You're in my way." Darling says, feeling like this is something she's said before. Something repeated. An inside joke that will never not be funny.

(Some things never change)

Not moving or cracking open his brilliant blue eyes, Chase says, "I am the way." It's such a different response from all those years ago when he did, in fact, move just so she could have a nice shot of their bikes together.

(Okay, maybe some things do change)

But … Darling can't help but note that Chase's reply doesn't sound like he's joking back (or maybe it's just her heart wanting to follow him to the ends of the earth and cause mischief and adventure?).

"Could you –" She sputters, pretending to be annoyed. "– move?"

"No, I'm tired, you dragged me all the way here and all I want to do is sleep." He says, sounding like her on days where she is exhausted. He's adopted some traits from her too. Being too relaxed, getting babied by her at times.

Pursing her lips together, Darling frowns. Sometimes she hates it that they get into mini arguments like these. It reminds her of old married couples –

Sighing, Darling raises her phone back up to capture the scene. Her Instagram name is no-man's-land but she guesses Chase could be the first person to be in her pictures. He did follow her all the way here (yes, Chase truly lives up to his username: Chase_you_there) and she's tagged him in her pictures plenty of times. Darling thinks, Chase deserves to be captured and remembered in her memories.

She knows she will miss everything. So, yes, this magic moment includes Chase Redford in all of his raw glory; his tallness and fading red highlights and the tired bruises under his eyes. He is an adventure she never wants to forget.

A lot has changed, Chase thinks to himself. Well, except maybe things between them; him and Darling. Probably. Definitely.

Chase didn't – hadn't – corrected himself and told her, 'Hey, actually – it wasn't my elbow that hit your mouth, it was my lips. Two years ago, remember? Because, funny story, you're going to totally laugh. Haha, I actually kissed you! Because I've been in love with you for far, far too long!'

He can't say that. Can't bring himself to. Getting these two extra years seemed like a miracle, a gift from the heavens, and he didn't want to ruin it by making it weird or anything.

Sometimes, Chase wonders if he had dreamt it all, because things are exactly the same, as if nothing had happened. But, then that wouldn't be possible because he remembers every event from that day, from the silky feeling of her pyjamas when they hugged to the happiness they shared that night; jumping like little kids and hollering. And because of the clear fact that there was an extension (which was ending soon. Too soon, but what can you do about it?).

So, obviously, a lot has happened … mostly on Darling's side, at least. Not between them. And by Darling's side, Chase means her family.

After years of clashing, it was only natural for Darling's oldest brother, Daring, to have enough and leave the Charming family. When push comes to shove ... it's not to say that Daring just walked out. And it's not to say that Daring is selfish for leaving either, because after years of putting up with his mother, the young man deserves some happiness in his choices. The Beauty family really felt like a second family to him, Rosabella is still his girlfriend and Briar is still one of his best friends. So if anyone were to visit Daring, he's just half an hour drive away, still in Book End.

Dexter now solely works by his father's side, proving to be more reliable than he thought he was. Dexter really sells himself short sometimes. And Darling tells Chase that she is happy that her twin is proving himself.

But, there is some bad news. Despite, 'losing' Daring, Mrs Charming still hasn't pulled back. She's actually more insistent now that they're a Charming down and can't stand the mention of Daring, much less to be in the same room as him. It's actually pretty messed up.

And because of this mix bag of feelings, Chase tells himself that he can't confess. He tells himself that he has to get over her instead. So what if they've known each other for five years and he's been in love with her for three? That didn't matter because she's leaving soon – again, for like the third time. And he thinks, definitely, this time she's leaving because 'third time's the charm'.

Besides, like he said, they haven't really talked about that two AM kiss. Though, he was the one who lied and said it was his elbow hitting her. He just ... didn't want to make it weird despite having all that time to take back his words. But, that's all old news now.

It's too late Chase tells himself. Far, far too late.

Now, they've just accepted things. They're just friends. Nothing between them have changed, they're still comfortable with each other and she still invades his personal space while in pyjamas and, he's still strict about rules and he worries about their safety. The end result is – currently, there is clearly no room for romance in Darling Charming's hectic life.

Chase tells himself has to accept this fact, he refuses to act like a sore loser about it. Besides, plenty of people have that one story about a girl that got away.

He's always been a careful one out of the two. Always planning, always coming up with a back-up plan, always spending nights mulling over things and losing sleep. But, being with Darling has made him reckless, just like how Darling being around Chase has made her more mature. So, therefore, Chase must ask. He thinks there is no other way to ask. So he just comes out and says it, it's been running through his mind for too long.

"When we part our ways, when you leave and I stay here, you'll be all alone, won't you?" Chase asks her as they're sitting on the ground next to each other. The moment reminds him of that night they were bundled up in the safety of his garage, protected by the storm and an almost similar green sky.

"I don't mind being alone. Not anymore." Darling admits after staring at her silver shoes, the same ones he gave her all those years ago. She's really good at preserving things she likes. "My time away from my brothers and the sleepless elite have taught me that people I care about can't always be by my side. I can't always drag someone with me."

"Well," Chase says, frowning now. "It's not like I'll ever let you be alone. If I could, I wouldn't want to."

She laughs as she answers him, "So what? Are you going to be by my side until I die?"

He looks at her for a long time then shakes his head and shrugs, "Maybe. If you let me."

"That sounds like promise." Darling says then corrects herself, "Sounds like a proposal." She says in a small voice. "That sounds like marriage."

A part of him wants to act brave and ask, 'Your point being?' Maybe he could handcuff himself to her forever … via a ring wrapped around her forth finger? But instead, he just looks away and says, "Yeah ..." in an equally small voice.

She looks away too, mimicking him, and he tucks his chin on his knees, making himself small. He wants her to forget what they've just said, like a bad joke, like that kiss.

After looking at the sky, she says, "I've been thinking ..."

"Hmm?" He's glad she's turning to a new topic.

"Do you think my plan is a good one? I mean, it sounds logical, doesn't it?" Darling asks, her eyes still trained on the green sky. "Since my brothers gave me a year of their life to live mine, I may as well return it." Dexter had spilled the beans and, called Darling and told her that her brothers were the reason for the extension. "Once I get back to Book End and start working beside Dex, I'll get into the notion of it, won't I? I've been by Dex's side for almost my entire life, it should feel natural, right? It'll be good for the family, I'll help lift the burden off Dex's and Father's shoulders, and maybe it'll sooth the flames between Daring and Mother."

"Maybe." Chase says slowly. "Well, you have given this a lot of thought."

"I have."

"And there are a lot of questions that follow with it, I can't really answer most of them but your plan sounds good, so I think the only way you can know the outcome is by following it." Came Chase's response. "There's no other way, really." (Besides the out of nowhere assumption of a proposal. He won't mind taking care of her, though. He's been with her for practically forever, what's another forever to add?)

"I guess there isn't." Darling answers.

Chase takes this as a rejection of that maybe-proposal but he's not bitter about it. He thinks, Darling will probably never fall in love with him because, honestly, she had no time to think of it. And he doesn't blame her, though, because she's got a lot on her mind – mainly her family. Her family has always been her primal focus and for Darling to think of them and the Charming family future is very noble of her. He admires her for this.

"Will you be okay? Working with a job you know you won't like?" Chase asks, now looking at her.

"Yeah." Darling nods, returning his gaze. She thinks he's such a dork for worrying about her. He worries too much. "It's my decision. I don't think I'll hate it as much since I got to choose." Then she asks him, "And will you be okay? Traveling alone for a whole year?"

They've been travelling and flying for half a decade now but Chase still gets afraid at times. He still hasn't gotten rid of all his fears and the obvious death machine that is known as 'a plane'. His childhood trauma instilled within him isn't something easy to overcome but he's getting there.

Just like how Chase worries about her, Darling worries about him too. Darling remembers how there was one point where Chase had clutched on the armrests when the plane quivered and Darling had made sure he was alright and calm by placing her hand on top of his scared one. It's her last day to be with him but she still wants him to know that she'll be there for him.

Humming, Chase nods back, a confidence behind his movement. "I will. It's my choice too."

It looks like they're spending a year apart to work on themselves. It sounds good yet also so sad.

The two stay quiet for a moment, now looking ahead again. She's close to being twenty-three now and him twenty-six, and he still hasn't gotten over her like he told himself too.

"I'm really glad I got to meet you, Darling." He says but his eyes as staring at the aurora borealis and Darling would have been convinced he was talking to the sky if he hasn't said her name.

Not wanting to end the day on a sad note, Darling decides to hold her tongue and lean her head against his shoulder like old time's sake. She wishes he had chosen to make a joke instead of making the conversation sentimental. He had finally gotten that stick up his butt loosened and now goes a little over the speed limit. Stupid Chase and his dumb precautions over her heart.

"Me too, Chase." She finally says as she feels his cheek on the top of her head. She's going to miss him loads. A lot a lot a lot. He lets her feel safe with him and Darling whispers (no, she makes a promise), "If everything works out back in Book End, I'll come back and see you next year."

Chapter Text

the sleepless elite


chapter twenty-four



But I still love you, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I love you,
I didn't mean to say what I said,
I miss you, I mean it, I tried not to feel it but I can't get you out of my head,
And I want you to miss me when I'm not around you

– Carly Rae JepsenYour Type


With each brush stroke, Darling Charming feels her shoulders sag and the bags under her tired blue eyes grow heavier.

God, this is tiring. She thinks, squinting, trying to look beyond presentable.

It's just, ever since she was appointed a position at her family's News station-business, Darling couldn't help but feel saddled with a sudden unspoken, invisible burden. It was weighing her down. It was always perfect this and perfect that; flawless make-up and a tight-bun hairstyle, unwrinkled shirt and a constant charming smile slapped on her face.

There's a certain extent Darling will put up with. She knows how important image is, especially in her family. She's not going to put down anyone who puts on a full face of make-up and accessories decorated on each arm every day, but, this – THIS – isn't her!

It was exhausting that she had to keep up this image and not be herself. Darling didn't like it because she knew she wasn't perfect. She can admit that she could be a spoiled princess at times and, yeah, she had her temper tantrums, she doesn't know the concept of personal space at times and she shares way too much. However, being this corporate-news person who was all closed lipped and professional was someone she's not! Just looking at herself in the mirror felt weird.

Darling tucked her ankles behind each other, feeling her shoes click. She's wearing heels, the type of shoes that she hasn't worn since that awful stormy night with a green sky. The fitted skirts wrapped around her waist make Darling long for her comfy pyjamas. If anyone asked, Darling would say she feels almost shunned and shoved into a corner where all she can do is sit pretty and speak when spoken to.

In this ugly yellow fluorescent light, it makes her almost silver hair look golden and her lips a darker shade of red than it should be. Like a sudden crash of thunder, an impending doom rolls around in Darling's stomach, making Darling drop her make-up brush.

Get yourself together, you're just tired! Darling bites at herself.

Pushing herself away from the laptop that she's using as a mirror, Darling blinks back at her reflection. It looks nothing like her, Darling barely ever look this uptight and constricted. This feeling, it really feels like …

It almost feels like she was Apple White. Darling thinks … this may just be the tip of the iceberg though. Just a small taste but Darling thinks she understands how Apple used to feel back in high school, being pressured to look perfect. Be perfect and pretty. Gosh, now Darling feels bad for being the way she was to Apple. The break-up is old news, wounds are healed and tears are dried, but the guilt is still fresh. Maybe Darling should apologize for the way she acted? Reach out and talk to the blonde –

Her phone buzzing snaps Darling out of her private little pity party. Fishing it out of her purse, Darling checks the screen, overlooking the background of her White Knight motorbike, and immediately starts grinning widely – It's Chase.

"Hi!" She says, sounding out of breath, all that panic got to her. Darling's glad she and Chase are just calling instead of video calling. She thinks Chase would think she looks like a totally different person if he saw her.

"Hey." He greets back. And from the way he answered her, she can tell he's tired, ready to drop dead. Same.

"How are you?" She asks, trying to sound casual but she can't help but feel odd. It's so strange hearing his voice on the other side of the line instead of face to face, she's grown so used to having him by her side.

Darling turns her swiveling chair, turning away from her reflection in her laptop only to be greeted by her reflection at the window. This isn't her.

"I'm good. Exhausted." He says, making Darling crack a smile. The first genuine one today.

"You're always exhausted." Darling knows deep within her that Chase will never change. She looks forward to seeing him again. Tucking her ankles behind each other again, she looks at her feet – work shoes that are polished and black, not worn out and silver. She asks again, "Where are you now? What time is it?"

"Japan." He answers. "It's six AM."

"Ah," It's seven PM here. Darling quickly calculates the time difference. Working with the news has hard-wired her to remember time-zone better.

A knock sounds and Darling pulls her gaze away from the window that feels out of place. She sees the outline of her twin brother standing outside her door, recognising the way Dexter stands and his cowlick hair. Darling turns her eyes away from the door, raising her voice over the phone so that Dexter would know she was busy.

"Have you been taking your multi-vitamins?" Darling asks good-naturedly. Apparently, they found out why Chase has always been so tired, it's the lack of supplements. Well, that and the busy workload.

"No, but I will soon."

"After you eat, yeah? Don't forget to eat breakfast." Darling says, remember all those years ago where she'd go to Chase's workplace just so he'd eat, even if it was just cream cheese bagels or small sandwiches. The man works too hard.

"Ah –" Chase utters then his voice goes soft and Darling can practically picture him smiling because of her. "Mm, thanks."

A knock sounds again; three raps, stronger this time.

"What was that?" Chase asks. "Sorry, I called you while you were at work, didn't I?"

"No, it's fine." It's Saturday here, after all, and Sunday there. Chase wouldn't have guessed that she'd be working as hard as him. Maybe even harder.

Darling hears chitter chatter on the other side of the line as Chase speaks. He asks her, "So, tell me about you."

"What about me? Just because I work with the news doesn't mean I know all the hot gossip around the world."

"Who cares about the world, I'm asking about you."

Darling smiles, ignoring the knocking on her office door tapping again. Let Dexter knock.

God, now she wants to shut her eyes and block everything else. If Darling closes her eyes for long enough, maybe she can vision it? Darling doesn't want to be stuck in this stuffy box called an office, she wants to pretend she's by Chase's side somewhere in Japan where there's culture and cherry blossom trees. She would like to be out in the open with him who checks over their shoulders twice, once for her and then the other for himself.


"So, how's Mother?" Her older brother, Daring asks, though both Darling and Dexter knows that Daring doesn't want to get too deep into the conversation. The blonde man is either too curious for his own good or overly polite to include family in their conversation or not-so-secretly a masochist.

"Same old, same old." Dexter says, cutting into his food without any clumsy mistake. He's really grown since Darling left to travel the world.

"Mother keeps insisting that you've ran away," Darling utters, glad that she's having dinner with her brothers again but feeling out of place since she wasn't able to strip off her make-up. She's still in her work clothes and the people staring at Charming siblings in the restaurant is getting really annoying. Yeah, yeah, they're all good looking. Now go back to your food, damn it!

"Is that so?" Daring grins humourlessly.

Dexter nudges Darling to not say too much but Darling nudges Dexter back, accidentally elbowing his ribs too hard.

"Sorry," Darling says, meaning it, sometimes she's stronger than she thinks. Then she shifts her gaze at Daring to look him in the eye as she answers him. Well, Daring did ask.

Dexter just huffs, ready to act like the middle man if his siblings were to get out of control.

"Yeah." Darling says, defending her oldest brother. "And when I said that you haven't run away, she makes the conversation worse and proclaims 'You're right, he didn't run away, he abandoned us'! She's so dramatic!"

Daring chuckles, he's pretty sure the only people in the family who aren't dramatic are Father and Dexter.

"I mean, we can literally hop into a car and see you in half an hour." Darling continues justifying. Now she wonders if this is how her mother felt about her when Darling herself took another job besides a position at Charming Co. "If she didn't want to drive all the way to the Beauty's house, then you could always visit home. You haven't visited since –" Darling drops her sentence then starts sawing her steak with a new fury. But she's cutting the pieces too big and her arms are getting tired. "An alternative is a family dinner or something, like now."

Daring reaches over and gives his sister a comforting pat on the hand, stopping her from utterly destroying her meal. He knows she's angry but she doesn't have to be. Not for his sake. Only, Darling thinks that she must and pulls away. Her brothers have done so much (too much) for her so she should suck it up and just help them by working.

Dexter gives Daring a soft look, knowing how Darling hates being held down when she's furious, stupid twin sense. She's much too expressive and Daring is now sipping his wine while letting Dexter talk. He says, "It's alright, sis."

Darling thinks it isn't though. Their family is one man down and Darling hates her job and Dexter was never considered to step up for this position but he is, and he's doing a damn well job but Darling thinks Mother still disproves it because it isn't Daring and because Raven's working there too.

"We're managing. We're doing alright, and that should be good enough." Dexter answers. God, he can be mature when he wants to be.

Darling almost misses when he used to freak out over every. small. thing. Darling almost misses when she can just rant but now with all this responsibility, she's discovered that there's no time for that because her time instead could be used fixing it. It's a good allocation of her time but she still wants a way to let out steam, even if it's just talking smack.

She misses being able to express herself freely.


You up? Darling reads the message she sent, ignoring her growing paperwork. She's already spent five hours straight hunched up over it. A quick ten minute break won't kill her.

Staring intensely at her screen, Darling hopes she can will Chase to wake up and answer her, but she's certain he's comatose. It's much too early for him to be up.

While she's away from him, Darling realises how Chase Redford is her favourite person.

Honest to God, she freaking misses him. So so so much! It's like her brothers all over again, but worse! Darling realises how much she misses Chase, maybe like that saying 'to the moon and back'? She misses him in the most boring way. And she says 'boring' because it's not like something exciting happens in her life and she suddenly finds the urge to tell someone (because that's too loose of a definition, it's not 'someone' or 'anyone', it's one specific person she wants to tell). She just wants to tell him about her day or about a stupid inside joke or just ask him about his day even if she has nothing to say in return. But there are so many obstacles like time difference and her feeling so lethargic and just blacking out as soon as her head hit the pillow only to realise she's overslept and that – shit, work starts in an hour. It's not easy being away from Chase.

She misses how he'd look out of her and the silly faces he used to make when he was done with her bullshit and how Chase would ask her 'Do you want me to get it for you?' when she would imply that she was lazy to do something herself, Chase truly spoils her, she can't believe it took her this long to notice it.

But, Darling promises herself, when she does have time, she'll try to call him again just to hear his voice. And if he doesn't answer, she will leave him voice messages that sounds embarrassingly too desperate but full of emotion so that he can hear her voice.


"Chase?" His name slips out from her mouth before it even registers to her. Her head pokes up from the many pillows of Chase's couch and she's ready to swing her legs and run to the door. The second she heard the front door unlock – the fucking second she heard that click – she knew she wanted to see him that. very. instant.

But, it's not him. Couldn't possibly be. No.

When the front door swings open with dark eyes trained on the floor, Darling sees her former co-worker, Ace Spades, walk into the room. At first distracted with his phone and music but then he looks up from his devices and looks beyond confused.

"Darling Charming?" Ace gaps, ripping off his earphones, eyebrows still raised. He hasn't seen her in person in five years.

"Hi, Bagel Guy." Darling manages weakly. She feels like her hopes just climbed up a tall building only to fall straight down after. She immediately remembers, Oh yeah, we used to ask Ace to take care of our M.A.D. bikes so I guess he's here to take care of Chase's Red Knight.

"Darling, what are you doing here?" Ace asks.

Darling's mouth waivers in disappointment but then Ace talks again.

"Is Chase back?" He asks.

Darling presses her lips into a thin line, sinking back into Chase's red couch. "No." But I wish he was.

...

It's kind of odd seeing her, here. And it's not just because she's in one of those 'I'm trying to get comfortable while reading' positions – where she's all crumpled up on the sofa, her limbs are folded, and her hair looks tossed and hazardous.

"What are you doing?" Ace asks Darling, holding a vacuum cleaner. This is the second time he's caught Darling at Chase's house but the Wonderlandian has this sneaking suspicion that Darling's been coming here more often.

"Reading." Darling answers, not looking at him.

"I mean at Chase's house. How did you even get in?"

"Through the bathroom window." Darling answers, turning on the couch so that her back's to him as she continues squinting at the book.

"How small are you?" Ace asks then says, "Wait, I make sure to lock that shit."

Unlike Ace, Chase actually gave Ace his keys and a promise to pay Ace to look after the bike in the garage. Ace just took it upon himself to come back monthly to polish the bike and to do some light cleaning. Like Darling said years ago, Ace is a mad one, liking Math and house sitting.

"I have the keys." Darling replies, still not looking up from the book in her hands.

Then why didn't you walk through the front door like a normal person, you weirdo? Ace thinks then swears, "Bullshit, I have Chase's spare keys. You broke in!"

This time, Darling does look at him, turning and looking up from the book. It feels like a challenge and Ace can only sigh.

He asks her one more time, "What are you doing here, Darling?"

"Like I said, reading."

"Can't you read at your own house?" Ace asks, still holding onto the vacuum like he's contemplating on scaring Darling with it so that she'd leave.

She grumbles, "I don't like it back home."

"So you're just gonna chill here at Chase's house while he's not around?"

And suddenly, Darling remembers her promise to tell Chase whenever she wanted to drop by (but, then again, she doesn't want him to know she's here and he answers her messages too late all the time. She never manages to call him and instead listens to his voice message before she sleeps with a mental note to reply in the morning).

"Maybe." She answers. "I just ..." Darling shuts the book fully now, putting a bookmark in. It's The Long Walk by Stephen King, one of Chase's favourite novels. Chase is more exciting than he gives himself credit for. This book for example, it keeps her on her toes, even though this is her second time reading it. "I just miss him."

Ace pauses, thinking for a moment before echoing Darling's words. "You miss him?"

"Yeah, loads."

"Huh." Ace gives Darling a look at almost convinces her that he is indeed mad. Then Ace puts his hands on his hips like a mother who goes 'Nobody ever helps me in this house' and says, "Can you at least do something other than read while you're here?"

"Like what?" Darling brightens. So she can stay?

And Darling's answered with a vacuum shoved in front of her face. He … wants her to clean?

Ace says, "If you're gonna live here, at least treat it like it's your home too."


"I can't believe you're here."

"Me neither," Ace says as he smiles brightly at the food served from a waitress before looking at Chase Redford.

Ace Spades had decided to take a vacation, eight days, to be exact. He had read somewhere that that was just the right number of days. Anything beyond that is too long. He had 'conveniently' choose the country Chase was in, dropping a text saying he wanted to meet up.

What for? Chase remembers asking, thinking Ace had texted the wrong person, though he knew that Ace would say something every once in a while about his house and his bike.

To chill :D Ace's reply came.

Lies, Chase thinks! A complete and utter lie – 'chill'? Ha! Ace totally planned this! But because Ace was a wild card and a good friend, Chase couldn't turn Ace down. Instead, he said 'Yeah, okay, sure' then the next thing Chase knew, they were at a diner, eating lunch and talking. Chase blames the fact that he could never understand Wonderlandians.

Ace's dark eyes sparkled with this familiar mischievous look just as the waitress leaves after coming back to serve Chase, giving the tall man a smile.

"No." Chase says before Ace can even open his damn mouth. "No no no."

"I didn't even say anything!" Ace argues, a mouthful of food opening, jaw slacking. Can't he just enjoy his food over good gossip?

"You don't have to!" Chase argues back, wanting to pinch the bridge of his nose, shut his eyes and run a hand through his hair – not all at once but maybe in a particular order.

"You didn't even try talk to her." Ace says like Chase has missed an opportunity, though the waitress is still on her shift.

"I don't want to." Chase says and means it.

Ace holds each of his hands like he was ready to use his cutlery to stab someone at Chase's unreasonableness. "You're so lame."

"Shut up."

"You are," Ace says dramatically, pointing his knife at Chase's direction. This conversation feels strangely familiar.

"I'm what?" Chase inquires.

"A coward."

Chase huffs.

Ace adds, tearing into his eggs with frustration now. It's like playing hard mode on a video game except he's blind-folded and the buttons are half dead. "And old –"

"I turned twenty-seven this Summer, that was barely –! Well, sorry I'm not the kind of reckless person chasing after every flirt or opportunity or whatever." Chase mutters, now moody.

Ace says with a stronger voice. "Oh, hush you! Let me finish my sentence. You're old, yeah, but I mean as in you're old enough. Old enough to deal with this sort of things."

"What sort of things? Just because I'm not a teenager or in my early twenties doesn't mean I'm hopeless." In love.

Wait, how did this conversation even start?

Ace presses his lips into a thin line, "You're right, you're not naïve teen who thinks first love is forever and you're not a mid-twenties young adult who's trying to figure shit out like bills and groceries, you've got your shit settled – you've got a job you love, a nice house, a sweet ride – heck, you're careful to start a retirement fund the second you started working; you're an adult."

"Okay, where is this going?" Chase asks, choosing to pick up his fork so that he'll look at his meal and now at Ace.

"I need you to suck it up. There are worst things then not having a current crush like you back."

"What? Current?"

"I mean, who flipping knows? Maybe you'll like someone else but you're currently in love and you gotta wise up." Ace says and Chase has no clue what Ace is talking about. Are they even on the same page? Then Ace hits Chase with a question that kills his appetite. "You've known Darling for – what? – six years?"

"… Yeah?" Chase answers back.

"And you like her, right?"

"Um …"

"What took you so long?"

Chase guesses the jig is up. So he may as well confess (to the wrong person), "I've liked her since I was twenty-four."

"Yeah, took you three years to fall for her! You. are. hopeless!" Ace grounds, finally cleaning his plate spotless. "What the fuck, man?"

Chase leans back, dropping his fork and runs a hand through his hair. "I didn't know her that well when we first met. I thought she was pretty but ..." Chase sighs before touching his neck, feeling the heat rise to his cheek. "I saw her more as a friend for forever then one day, I ... I just didn't? It just happened!"

Ace accuses, "You're demisexual, aren't you?"

"I'm what?"

"Do you know anything about sexuality?"

"Somewhat? I've never been that curious. I've always been really busy, didn't you also go to Wonderland High? You should know that I was headboy and captain of the Fencing Club."

"Hmm, I think I remember. You were an overachiever, I don't know how you did it. Did you even have time to relax?"

"No."

Ace drums his fingers, and asks "Are you aware that Darling's bisexual?", trying to bring Chase's senses up a notch, telling Chase Darling has the potential to attract a lot of people.

"I wasn't for like the first two years? She had a girlfriend so I thought she was just interested in girls." Chase answers, causing Ace to look at him for forever.

Ace breathes in deeply, "Is that why you never asked her out?"

"Also because I wasn't in love with her back then."

"You two had so much chemistry! Anyone could see it, like a mile away!"

"Now you're talking nonsense," Chase utters. And just as Ace is about to shake his head, Chase adds, "Plus, I don't really care about all of that stuff, I just want to take care of her."

"That is …" Ace pauses, furrowing his brow. "That's too innocent."

Just then, someone puts a dime in a jukebox that's placed next to the spot the two have sat at. And suddenly Carly Rae Jepsen's song Your Type comes on. Chase ignores the electropop first but then the lyrics hit him and he didn't think he could ever relate but he does and it hurts.

"Turn up the volume." Chase says, now picking at his food again.

Ace lowers his mug and squints. "You can't be serious." Is it even possible to fiddle with a jukebox's volume?

"I am."

"Whatever happen to that 'chill friendship' you mentioned between you and Darling?" Ace asks but only gets a glare from Chase so Ace sighs and asks, "Want me to play Tonight I'm Getting Over You after this song?"

Chase only blinks in return. He doesn't think he's ever heard of that song but the title says enough. "Why would I want to get over her?"

"Wait, what? Aren't you heartbroken because Darling rejected you?" Ace asks. Nobody ever told him Chase liked Darling but, like, Chase is not being subtle at all. Chase asks about Darling all the time since both Darling and Ace are at Book End and if she drops by their workplace and all that jazz. Like, Ace just assumed and was right. So he also assumed that Chase confessed and got rejected in response.

Chase bits his bottom lip then whispers, "I … never told her."

Why … what? What the actual – "Then why the hell are you acting so emo? Tell her before someone else does!"

But Chase just shakes his head and says, "Just turn up the volume."

"No." Ace growls but if he could, he'd turn up the song by five levels just to be annoyingly loud.

Carly sings the line 'And I break all the rules for you, break my heart and start again!' and Ace could actually picture this idiotic grown ass man's heart breaking into a million pieces. Why do people even listen to sad love songs?

"God, you're stupid," Ace swears. "So you're not going to get over Darling?" Ace asks after a moment, forcing Chase to drop everything. Chase thinks he may have even stopped breathing if he could.

"No," Chase answers. No, never.

"For now or ...?" Ace asks but Chase doesn't reply so Ace raises a brow and asks, "So what are you going to do? Like her forever? Wait a hundred years?"

Chase rolls his eyes, grumbling. "Don't be dramatic." Maybe forever doesn't sound all that bad.

"I'm not." Ace snaps. "You are. You're so scared that she'll say 'no' that you don't even try."

"I know she'll reject me." She's already rejected him (technically, maybe, in theory) twice by not acknowledging the kiss and not saying 'yes' when the proposal came out of nowhere.

Ace leans forward, trying to assert some kind of dominance so he can guide Chase's dumb butt the right path. "She may consider it."

"How do you even know?"

"I don't." Ace answers, making Chase want to tear his hair out.

Chase asks, "Then?"

"Oh my God, give it a chance! Give chance a chance!" Ace reasons.

Chase blows out the compressed feeling air in his lungs and tells Ace, "Why are you so insistent?" Is work that boring that Ace has to fly all the way here just to stir up some drama?

"Because I'm you guy's friend. Because I care." Also because Ace can't stand knowing something so stupidly obvious things about two people while the two said people are flipping blind!

Sounds like more lies. Chase thinks. Being with Darling isn't as easy as Ace implies. Chase remembers that night at his garage when Darling was crying her eyes out because of a heart break. He couldn't betray Darling like that. He knows he told her she could find someone better than Apple White but he didn't mean him. He thinks he's a mess! Chase threatens, "I'm not going to cover your bill."

"You were going to cover my bill?" Ace blinks his dark eyes like he's got dust in his eyes.

Chase shrugs. "I got used to it. I would pay for one meal then … you know, she would pay for the other."

Ace slams a hand on the table, making the things on its surface jump. He's fuelled by emotion, "Listen to yourself! You've practically built your life around her!"

"She doesn't want me." Chase grits his teeth so hard that he thinks he'll crack a tooth.

"Have you fucking asked her?"

"Language."

Ace holds Chase's gaze as if he's the one threatening now. "Frick frack diddly dack patty wack –"

"Are you really only a year younger than me?" Chase asks, getting impatient by Ace's childishness.

"– snick snack quarterback crack jack biofeedback buttcrack –"

"I will leave."

Ace looks beyond annoyed at this nonsense and says, "I'll fucking tackle you to the ground, Redford. I swear. I'm not afraid to cause a scene."

"Don't you think she –" Chase can't say her name, he hasn't said her name throughout this entire conversation. It kinda hurts just thinking about it. Though, she is the first thing on her mind. "– would have told me she liked me back if she did? But she hasn't so she's not, okay? I'm not her type, she'll never call me more than a friend. She doesn't think of me like that, doesn't feel it. I'll be lucky if she even misses me."

.

.

.

The eight day vacation scheme is a complete and utter fail.


Ace's eyes darts to the opened bottle that's labelled PINA COLADA. It's written in a type of girlish style, resting on the coffee table. It looks homemade.

He asks Darling, pausing his game of Sudoku. "Where did you get that?" He still thinks it's weird leaving Darling alone in Chase's house. He's grown too used to caring for the place while Chase is away, so for Darling to just show up like she lives here …

She answers, sipping her drink, "Here and there, it's Chase's. I kinda saw it in his garage."

"You found that in his garage?" Ace blinks. Isn't that an invasion of privacy?

"Yes and no. I saw it tucked away in a box in his garage a few years ago. I'm pretty sure he didn't want me to know that a 'responsible guy like him' would enjoy casual drinking."

"So you're drinking five year old alcohol? That's gross. I'm pretty sure the milk in that drink wouldn't last that long. It must be spoiled."

"No, I mean, I made it but it's Chase's. I found a file in the kitchen cabinet with his handwriting, lots of homemade recipes, so I made myself a drink and I like it."

Ace gives Darling a look, he hopes she doesn't become a certified alcoholic from missing Chase too much. "Jesus, you really know this house inside-out. Why don't you just live here?"

Darling brightens. "You think Chase would let me?"

"What? I was joking, I don't – His house only has one bedroom."

"I wouldn't mind."

"You can't make him sleep on the couch. This is his own house." Ace speaks and Darling opens her mouth but Ace interrupts. "And he wouldn't allow you to sleep on his couch either. He'd insist to be a gentleman."

Darling puts down her drink. "I just want to stay here."

"For how long?"

"I ... don't know? For as long as Chase lets me?" But have you told him you're even here?

"That would mean living together with Chase." Forever. "He's too nice to kick you out, he'd give you some house rules to follow but he'll never make you leave." Ace says, eyeing her with an intensity, searching for something.

Darling stares back for what seemed like a solid minute before letting her lips part. "I –"

"Don't you dare say that you wouldn't mind that either." Ace cuts in.

Darling's back snaps straight from the sudden shift on Ace's voice. "And why not?" She asks.

"Then that would say that you aren't considering Chase's feelings at all and that's unfair to him."

"Ah, that's –"

"I know you know. You can't be that oblivious."

At this, Darling immediately looks away. Darling is aware of how suddenly, she's seen as the villain. What a comparison of her and Apple, truly. Apple used to do that too, wouldn't fess up and admit to Mrs White that Apple liked Darling more than a friend, causing Darling to cry and break-up with Apple, then bury the shoes she wore to prom.

Darling wasn't dumb. She knew it wasn't an elbow that knocked against her lips, it was a kiss, she just – expected Chase to say something. If someone asked her what she was waiting for, she would shrug and say 'I don't know. Anything,' Maybe for Chase to stop being so anxious. Certainly for Chase to stop being cautious. But he wasn't that type of person, she knew that much. She was just scared, maybe. Perhaps. Definitely. Okay, so maybe all the pain from the previous break-up wasn't all that let go, but could you blame her?

Okay, you could. But, she just didn't think anyone's parents would like her for her reckless-no sense of personal space-pyjamas are my everyday self. She's starting to understand Apple White better now, Darling can no longer blame Apple for how the blonde hadn't wanted to come out. Darling can't judge when she's doing the same by keeping Chase's feelings at arm's length.

"If you're going to keep this up –" Ace says with a serious tone. "– at least, be straight with him." Ace grounds before his face softens. "No pun intended."

"What pun?"

Ace flicks his hand as if to forget about what he just said. "Just think about it, okay? Dragging things on isn't good for you."


Chapter Text

the sleepless elite


chapter twenty-five


 


Mamma mia, does it show again?
My my, just how much I've missed you,
Yes, I've been broken-hearted, blue since the day we parted,
Why, why did I ever let you go?

– ABBAMamma Mia


"What are you waiting for?" A question fills the air and Darling pauses for a moment, blinking out of her thoughts. The Charming girl wishes she could say this was some magical moment that knocked some sense into her, but it wasn't. It was just a question asked.

And when Darling gets her bearings right, she's greeted by her longtime friend Raven Queen who smiles pleasantly at the blonde.

Oh. Darling thinks, looking at Raven's hands – each occupied with a cup of coffee, one for Raven herself and one for Dexter, Darling presumes. Damn, Darling's had gotten so used to Chase doing certain things for her that she never considered that she'd have to live without him having her back.

"Nothing," Darling lies, crossing her legs under the table and pushing back a lock of blonde hair. "I'm just saving the table."

"But there are plenty of other tables to sit at." Raven says, purples eyes sweeping over the break room of the Charming Co. building before she sits down beside Darling.

Briefly blushing, Darling looks away. Wow, she's embarrassed and she'd rather not address this fact so … small talk it is! Fiddling with her bare hands, Darling utters a cliché, "So lovely weather we're having?"

"The weatherman would disagree." Raven answers, still smiling. Ah, the perks of working at a company that provides global news, sports, weather and documentaries – you get to cover every topic because you know everything.

"Agree to disagree."

Raven's grin widens, there's this knowing look in her eyes like she's catching Darling in an act. Really, Raven shouldn't be giving Darling that look. They've done wilder things in their youth and nobody in the sleepless elite ever said anything.

However, Raven being Raven – at times sneaky and sly – doesn't say a word. She knows Darling can't take the silence. And after counting down from ten backwards, all while Raven takes a long sip of her drink, the dark haired woman finally got to break Darling's curiosity.

"Why are you staring at me like that?" Darling asks, making a face.

Raven almost laughs but doesn't. "Something's on your mind, isn't it?" Raven asks back, leaning forward.

Darling blanches and her blue eyes widen, "What?"

"Oh, come on, Darling! I've known you for years, you can't keep secrets from me so out with it already!"

Darling's face scrunches up even further. "R – Rae!"

"What? Too aggressive? Okay, I get it, we're in a work environment, I'll ask nicely; do you want to talk about it?"

"T – There's nothing to talk about."

"Uh-huh."

"I mean it,"

"Sure."

"It's just ..." Darling sucks in a breath then exhales. She's not doing to admit anything because there's nothing to admit, but, God, why does everyone think she's got secrets? It was just –

"You can tell me." Raven continues.

It's –

Last night, something nice happened, okay? It was just one nice thing. Maybe fate had aligned or whatever, but she had finally gotten a chance to talk to Chase. She knows it's a regular for them to leave voice messages for each other but it felt ... so incredibly nice to have a proper conversation with him. It was like he never left her side. They talked for a full hour and had to bid each other several good-byes. Not that Chase wanted to but Darling had insisted (despite her own heart saying 'no') because Chase had to sleep, it was four AM over there and he needed seven hours or more, it was just a whole thing.

But that's none of Raven's business. And Darling doesn't want to tell anyone about it. She wants to keep it to herself; like a secret – wait, oh, she guesses she does have a lot of kept secrets. She might have to work on that. Anyways.

Shaking her head, Darling brushes off the issue and says, "There's nothing to tell. I was daydreaming, that's all."

"Must be some nice daydream because you had this dopey grin on." Raven says, playing with her cup of coffee. "I haven't seen you smile like that in a while, I was convinced you were going to break your face! Honestly, do you want to spill the beans?"

"It's nothing." Darling replies, which probably isn't ever the best answer to give, then gets up from the table.

Without even a second thought, Raven reaches out and grabs onto Darling's pale wrist. With concern written on Raven's face, she tells Darling, "Don't run away."

And while swallowing the urge to sigh, Darling tramples on that irksome feeling anytime someone accuses her of running away. Yeah, she should really work on a few things about herself. "I'm not, I'm going to get my own drink now."

But Raven does not move and it forces Darling to stare at Raven's hold on her before looking at Raven in the eyes. Darling couldn't help but notice how Raven made working at the company feel so effortless. And Darling's not just talking about Raven dressing for the job. Because Raven does look stunning; dressed in a professional looking black dress and a nice, deep purple coat thrown over her figure. Everything just rolls off Raven's shoulders so well, she never seems stressed by the technicality of things and Raven blends so well with the place – unlike Darling herself. And she kinda owns Charming Co.

"Honest. It's nothing." Darling promises and Raven finally lets go of her friend.


"You're fine." Darling utters to herself, so soft that it sounds like a whisper. She curls her fingers into her palms and leans against the balcony railing, wishing she could sprout wings and get out of here.

Okay, maybe she's not fine. What she's doing now; looking out longingly at the sky and sighing a lot, wishing even, that's not 'fine'. That's sad. She can't believe she's feeling like this. Has she sunk low? Darling can't believe she's sounding so desperate for something.

Someone.

"Stop it." Darling growls to herself. "You don't need to cling onto anyone."

And then she tries to convince herself that she's independent and she likes being independent.

'But there's nothing wrong with wanting to depend on someone.' A small voice whispers in her head and Darling's convince she wants to punch air. Or maybe she's crazy?

"You can't do that. You can't, Darling." Darling says to herself like some derange pep talk. "You promised you'd work and make up for the sacrifices your brothers made to you. A whole year, and you're almost there but … can you really leave? Sure, it sucks ass but you promised things would be better and those promises should be kept."

Plus – PLUS – she's supposed to be by Dexter's side. She loves Dexter, he's literally her other half! And it's not to say she wants to leave her twin to fend for himself (though, Dexter is more than capable to run the company. He sells himself short sometimes), it's just, the whole idea of running away is bonkers and Darling wants to leave her past the past.

She just wished somebody told her how hard it would be because the time spent apart away from Chase made her miss him.

A lot.

Too much.

It feels like an empty spot in her chest and Darling found out she had too much time to herself. Time she didn't need. Time she didn't know what to do with it. Even riding around on the White Knight wasn't as enjoyable. She just never felt fully satisfied, she was starting to think if working for the family company was a horrible mistake.

"Hey," A voice greets, making Darling jump before she swirls around, ready to take down whoever startled her. The voice continues, "Whoa – hey – easy."

"Oh my God, you big nerd, don't do that!" Darling places her bare hands over her beating chest.

"Me? You almost karate chopped me!"

"Because you scared me!" Darling says defensively and Dexter must have caught on. Twin senses.

Staring hard at his sister, blue against blue, Dexter cocks his head and gives Darling a look. Dexter's twenty-three and perhaps finally out of his shell so approaching awkward topics aren't as awkward as they used to be.

Bumping his shoulder against her, Dexter smiles widely and Darling watches those endless blue eyes fill with sincere concern. "What's wrong, dear sister?" Dexter asks in a teasing manner to lighten the mood.

"It's nothing, I was just ... remembering some stuff." Darling answers, reaching out to smoothen out any fly-aways from her bun.

"Reminiscing on the good old days?" Dexter asks.

And Darling cannot answer back. Not when he had said it like that, like he knew. Not with those trusting eyes and with his hands behind his back. Dexter looks confident standing like that. Really, both he and Daring have really grown as people. Darling wished she could say the same about herself. She doesn't think she's changed that much.

Dexter continues, "You hate it here, don't you?"

"What –?" Darling pretends to be shocked by this statement. "No. Pfft, why would you say something like that –"

"Bup-bup-bup, you better not lie to me because my twin senses have gotten stronger since you got back and settled at Book End." Dexter says, holding up a pointed finger.

"Dex –"

"Don't make me get Dare involved."

"Dexterous, you wouldn't –"

"I would." Dexter challenges and a breeze sweeps through his cowlick hair. "And I know you. So … just tell me. You miss being out there, right?"

"I – I don't –" Slipping the mask off, Darling lets out a sigh and drops her shoulders. "Okay … so I … I Yeah. Yeah, I miss being out there. I miss some things. A lot of things, actually." If she wants to narrow it down even further, it'd be one specific thing.

"Like?"

"I miss … the adventures." Darling answers but instantly wants to take it back because she knows she can't lie to Dexter and she knows that's not the right term she's using. She just … can't admit it out loud. Doesn't know how to. So she asks, "Do you ever get this … this feeling? Like, it's weird and annoying and I just want it to go away because it's always bothering me. It makes my chest feel empty and sometimes I think I'm losing my mind." She throws her hands up in the air. "I just … I feel like I'm missing something, you know? And I can't – I don't – I don't know how to address it."

"I think I get that feeling," Dexter says slowly like he's considering the weight of his words. "You've been working here for a long time, Darling. I know you don't like it and, if I were in your shoes, honestly, I think I'd have those same feelings too."

Darling nods, grateful that Dexter was coaxing her to speak whatever's on her mind.

"You know, sis," Reaching out to touch Darling's shoulder, Dexter says, "I wouldn't blame …" He pauses, his blue irises searching. "I wouldn't blame you if you wanted to quit and go back."

Those words felt like a slap to the face. Especially coming from Dexter. Her brother. Her own twin.

"What – No!" Darling exclaims, smacking Dexter's hand away from her shoulder. "Why would you – No. No! I'm staying. With you."

She understands some aspect of her feelings. She can't help but feel that she misses Chase (which doesn't make all that much sense to her because she never missed her family as much when she was away but did when her brothers were away, it's complicated). But, she could never abandon Dexter! Darling cares about her family too much! She will admit that she was selfish and bratty in the past, letting Daring and Dexter take the fall and suffer their mother's wrath, but she's not going to do that again!

"Darling, listen –"

"No, you listen." Darling continues, feeling heated, "You can't fire me. You can't – I, I have rights and I have … rights – I have, I don't know, my name written somewhere as an heiress or something and – Oh God, I'm your sister and you can't fire me because that's bullshit!"

"I'm not firing you." Dexter tells Darling, running his hands through his hair. This is starting to feel like a stressful conversation.

"Then what is this?"

"I – You just – You don't look happy, Darling." Dexter argues back and resists the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose.

Darling lets a humourless laugh roll off her tongue. "And you think that's a good reason to fire me? I – What gave it away?"

"Rae told me."

A smile spreads across Darling's lips but it isn't a happy one, it's an angry one. A bitterness that isn't aimed at her twin or Raven. Her life is a joke, it's all backwards and, back and forth, and all over the place.

"And here I thought it was the twin senses." She jokes then turns dramatically and glares at the people below.

"I don't need that to know that you're upset with where you are now." Dexter tells her and stands side by side, elbows on the balcony railing while Darling's hands are clutching onto the metal thing like she wants to break it. "Tell me the real reason you want to go." He says as another breeze sweeps across the two siblings.

Stubbornly, she says, "There's nothing to tell."

"The year's almost up, Darling, you can leave if you want. You don't have to continue working at Charming Co."

"But I'll feel so horrible." Darling confesses. Heck, she feels horrible now. And she can feel the tears coming. "You're doing your best and so is Father, Dare is too but Mother still hates him for it."

"No. No, Mother doesn't have him. You don't have to worry about our lives. Don't worry about other people."

Darling turns away from the view, shaking her head slowly. "But you're worried about me. I'd be so selfish if I didn't think about you and Dare." She wrings her hands together, they were shaking.

"Yes, but – Look at Dare. Look at where he is now. He's not part of the family company but he's fine. He's happy."

"Dare probably would have been happier sooner if it weren't for me."

"No, he wouldn't." Dexter says, a firmness in his voice. "Dare's over the moon with Rosabella, he loves her family orchid and he's best friends with Briar – which I did not see coming. Would never have imagined it! It's a little crazy, I admit, what Dare has now is far from a life here with paperwork and cameras. It's very different, but I bet you Dare wouldn't change anything for the world!"

But Darling refuses to take the bait. She's feeling her throat clog and tears brimming from her eyes. "You don't know that."

"I do." Damn it! "Whenever I meet with Dare for lunch or something, it feels like I'm in a dream or some prank show. It's wild. Dare's telling me he's willingly getting on his knees to plant flowers and fruit. I … I just, it's strange, you know? With dirt under his fingernails, the sun beating against his back, choosing to be all sweaty …" Dexter says, losing his train of thought. It's just so odd to him that he still needs a good think about it. "Yeah, I can't do that, it's still weird to me. But, besides the point," Dexter utters, getting back to the main topic. "Dare's doing manual labour over a job that was handed to him before birth. He chooses a life with a lot of hard work and he's happy."

"What's your point?" Darling asks, getting cold feet because Dexter is really convincing her.

Pausing, Dexter exhales then says softly, "I really think it's all thanks to you."

"What?"

"Yeah, this all happened because of you. If you haven't insisted on spending senior year at Ever After High, I would never have had the courage to ask out Rae. The rest of the sleepless elite would have died of boredom without your spontaneous nature. And, to be honest, I think Dare probably would have married Apple White –"

A choking noise squeaks out of Darling's throat.

"– I know. I know. You don't want to talk about it. It's messy. But, that thing back in high school, it was a good thing. It probably prevented Dare from slaving away at Charming Co." He says probably but it was a definite thing. "Well, Apple was an alright person, but, it would have been inevitable for both Dare and Apple to be miserable if they did marry. They would have fallen out of love. Well, Dare would maybe still like Apple because he's not-so-secretly a romantic but Apple likes women and that's … I don't … Dare's not … Where was I going with this? I'm really off tangent here, disregard that." Dexter's just trying to pour everything into this speech. "You understand what I mean – stop blaming yourself, Darling, please."

But all Darling does is throw her hands up in the air like she's defeated. She did not expect this conversation to reach down, down, down into her past.

"It happened. Things happened all the time." Dexter says which is starting to sound cliché and awful. "But you miss the old life you had and I can't let you be miserable while everyone else is happy."

"Oh, Dex …" Darling's voice cracks, tears in her eyes. "What about you?"

"I'm okay. I'm not doing the whole Charming Co. thing alone." Dexter answers, hand back on his sister's shoulder, giving it a supportive squeeze.

This time, Darling doesn't slap it away. She grabs it and squeezes back.

"Look," Dexter says to Darling. "I know you hate it here. And I honestly think this job doesn't suit you – but not in an insulting way." He says when he catches her face shift. "I'm not saying you shouldn't come back to take the job, you should when you're too old to be riding bikes around, I'm just saying a job shouldn't be something you force yourself into but grow into instead. You can come back when you're older because, well," Dexter lets out a laugh. "Because we're family and we love you."

"Dexter –"

"No more interruptions. And stop crying, you're going to make me cry. I need to tell you everything before I become a mess myself." Dexter says and a tear trickles down his cheek. "Just know, I truly, think you're meant to be out there. Not stuck in here."

Darling's mascara is completely ruined at this point and Darling feels her heartache as Dexter continues speaking.

"So you should go, Darling, and only come back when you're ready. Mother will be furious but she'll get over it. She's mad at Dare, anyone with eyes can see that, but anyone can also tell that she misses Dare terribly too and Father would never kick us out of the family will. I'm fine working with Mother and Father, Rae too, so I really think you should be happy. Go get your old life back."

She hiccups. "Thank you." Darling whispers.

It was nice that her brothers had come to her rescue the same way knights do. Darling guesses being a princess is not all that bad (Chase was right, she needed to stop thinking of herself as a damsel-in-distress, asking and receiving help is fine).

"Oh, thank you, Dex." She hugs her brother tight and tries not to stain his shirt too much with mascara tears.

"No problem." Dexter says back into Darling's hair and he pats her back comfortingly. "Now will you please tell me what you want so I can help you? What do you miss? What's that feeling you're talking about and why won't you chase after it?"

Darling almost chokes a second time but doesn't.

"Yeah. Yeah. Okay." Darling wipes away any more tears and licks her lips. Why does it sound like she's been speaking for ages when it had been Dexter doing all the talking? "I …" God, here comes the confession. "I'll tell you. I'll tell you everything."

Chapter Text

the sleepless elite


chapter twenty-six


 


"You're in love with him." – These words cut deep into Darling Charming's core.

I'm in love? Darling repeats in her thoughts.

If she wasn't already sitting down, she'd request a chair. Or maybe sat on the floor. But for now, these words are so deep that the blonde woman wants to take a step back; maybe put the world on hold, a pause. She wants to take a long, long walk. She wants to allow herself to think; to deconstruct this simple sentence and break it down into small pieces; try and figure out the meaning behind it.

"What?" Darling blanches when she finally comes to her senses. Blue eyes stare at Raven Queen and she gaps at the proclamation her friend just made. "No!"

Darling tries to not throw her arms in the air, tries not to be dramatic and thinks how it's such a nice day and – Oh, why did she had to have these facts smacked in her lovely face?

Staring at the trio before her, Darling tries not to freak out (too much). The four of them are sitting outside the Wonderland Haberdashery and Tea Shoppe,around a circular table – with Dexter sitting across from his sister, Raven on Darling's right and Maddie on her left – enjoying the sun and the fresh air and the murmuring chatter.

"You're in love." Raven repeats herself, giving Darling a knowing look.

"Wha – ? No, I'm not in love with –" Darling can't bring herself to say his name. "You guys are insane!"

"I may be a little mad but I know love when I see it!" Maddie says but is only shushed by Dexter and Raven.

In love? What?

Shaking her head, Darling tries to shoo this issue away by saying, "I just miss him!" Horribly. A lot! So much. "But, I'm not in love! How can I be? He's – " Just say his name, already! "Chase is – He's so paranoid! Unbelievable paranoid, like can you imagine being in love with someone like that? Can you – He has this giant stick up his butt and he's awkward and he's always tired. And I mean always. All the time. Like, 24/7, I am not kidding –"

"Darling," Raven calls, trying to calm her friend down.

But it doesn't work because Darling only continues rambling, trying to come up with every excuse in the book. Dexter sighs at the denial and Maddie only pours cups of tea to fill up the time. This is going to be a long conversation.

"– I mean, Chase is great despite what I just said. He's a really good person but I, I – I don't not like spending time with him? Does that even make sense? I know I can talk smack about him but I, I wouldn't change anything about him for the world –"

"Darling –"

"– I don't – I'm not in love! Or in feelings with him, I'm just feeling things! And I – I feel weird that he's not here! I can't put a name to it. I don't know what it is –"

"Darling," Raven finally stops her friend's rambling by putting a hand on her shoulder. "You've got it bad."

"No, I don't!" Darling tries defending herself once again. She's trying really hard to say that she's not in love. She's just trying to say that: while she was away from Chase, she realised something!

… And that was that he is her favourite person.

"No, you're clearly in love with this Chase guy." Maddie answers, supporting Raven's claim.

Dexter only takes a gulp of his drink. He's going to be saying a lot soon if this conversation between them and Darling is going to feel like a back-and-forth tennis match.

"But that can't be!" Darling tries to reason her way out of it, again. "I would have figured it out by now if I was –"

"Am." Maddie corrects with a wagged finger.

"If I am – If I'm ... I'm –" Somewhere along the way, Darling loses her inability to form sentences. She's tripping over her sentences. "There's no way! I mean, I haven't been in love in a while! Practically forever! But I've been in love so shouldn't I have recognised the feeling? Shouldn't I have known if I was in love to begin with? Shouldn't I have? After, you know, after …" Darling trails off, eyebrow squeezed together in frustration.

Dexter doesn't comment on the lack of words, only patting his sister's hand understandingly. And nobody else speaks of her name.

"I'm not saying you don't know anything about love, Darling. I'm not saying you've forgotten what being in love feels like either." Dexter tells his twin, finally saying something. "I'm just saying, I kinda know a thing or two about love. I've been with Rae for about ..." Dexter's blue eyes looks over the table at his long-time girlfriend before he starts ticking his fingers.

"We're coming close to our eight year anniversary." Raven answers after thinking for a moment.

"Wait – really? I was sixteen when it all happened? Man, I feel old now." Dexter says, touching a spot on his forehead.

"Shut up, we're the same age!" Darling threatens.

"I know that – Okay, we got a little side-tracked, but I'm just saying." Dexter continues to reason. "If you don't believe me, ask Dare or Alistair and Bunny. Basically, ask anyone who's in love because whatever you have now; it sounds like love. A deep love."

"He's right, you know." Maddie says, nodding her head. She pours a cup of tea, adds two sugars, and pushes it towards Darling, encouraging the silver-ish blonde to settle down and drink like everyone else.

Darling does so, gulping down the warm liquid, feeling it pass down her throat. And the three stare at Darling in silence, waiting for to explain herself.

Then she speaks. "Stop getting side-tracked,"

"We're not." Raven answer, glass clinking.

"Yes, you are! Have you three forgotten?" Darling reminds her brother and friends. "We're supposed to be talking about breaking the news to my mother, remember? About quitting my job? The one she's been desperately forcing me to do for years?"

Raven and Maddie exchange a look but says nothing.

"We understand, Darling, but Mother will want an explanation." Dexter reasons with a pinched look.

"And my love for my previous job isn't a sensible enough reason?" Darling asks.

"It is." Dexter answers then his face changes, getting serious. "But we've tried that in the past and that didn't exactly work out, did it?"

Darling doesn't say anything, picking up her second cup of tea to sip, only to flinch when it burned her.

"You know how Mother feels about your love for motorcycles." Dexter continues talking while the others listened. "She thinks it's silly. It's a genuine love, not a lot of people love their jobs, but she doesn't think you can support yourself with that sort of life. You obviously can, they're not ordinary bikes, they're special, as you call it, and I've seen your paycheck, but Mother just … She doesn't believe it's a life for you."

Darling realises her mother wants to tuck her past away, hide her motorbike job like it was a horrible mistake, keep it like a secret. Mrs Charming wants to paint her daughter like this perfect, pretty little thing but it's difficult when Darling acts the way she is.

"And, that is why," Dexter says, "I think telling Mother about your love for something else, a person, maybe seem more reasonable,"

But did it work for Raven and Rosabella? Because so far, no one's gotten Mother's approval. Everyone knows about Raven's hardships as a youth. Mother thinks Raven's bad news and Mother doesn't like Rosabella because she thinks Rosabella 'stole' Dare away. Darling thinks, staring into her tea. What would Mother think if I left? What would she think of Chase is he stole me away too?

Chapter Text

the sleepless elite


chapter twenty-seven


 


"Okay, so here's the plan." Dexter says to Darling.

They're sitting side by side in his car; his hands around the steering wheel while Darling has her eyes looking out the window. It's just the two of them, putting their heads together and trying to get through things.

Darling turns and looks at her brother, her twin, her other half, and, sees the determination on his face and glint in his blue eyes. Then suddenly, oh-so suddenly, it feels like they're six again and trying to steal cookies past their bedtime. It feels like they're ten and trying to start a food fight at the cafeteria without getting caught red-handed. Dreadfully twelve and trying to figure out a way for her not to be sent to that God-awful boarding school that's so so so far away. Or happily seventeen and trying to sneak out of the house to TP Headmaster Grimm's house.

She waits, she waits for Dexter to say something. To execute a plan because they've been thinking for hours, days, weeks, and it all sounds so pathetic.

Inhaling deeply, Dexter finally says, "We tell Mother."

"That –" Darling says, giving Dexter a flabbergasted look. "– is an awful plan. The worse plan I've ever heard in my life."

"Darling, hear me out –"

She groans at this. They're too old to be conspiring against their mother. Shouldn't there be a better way? How do adults handle these sort of things? She thinks she missed this life lesson.

"We need to tell Mother. Or rather, you need to ask Mother on our birthday." Dexter corrects himself.

Say what?

"Our birthday?" Darling echoes back. "Why?"

"She can't say 'no'," He reasons, looking serious and pinched and worried altogether.

"Yes, she can!" Darling's face scrunches up. "That isn't how birthday wishes work! Dex, even if I ask on our special day, I can't just wish on things and, poof poof, get my wishes granted! That's not how life is, I have to be very lucky for that to happen! If life was as easy as you said, miracles would have happened long ago." She argues, feeling the hum of the engine. It helps soothes her. But not enough. "Daring had to threaten his way to be with the Beautys' and you – God, you. I don't even know where you fit in all of this, Dex. If things were as simple, you and Raven would be infinitely happy by now. I don't even know how Mother feels about her!"

"Just try, you're Mother's favourite!" Dexter fights back, saying truthful things that sting and hurt.

Shocked by this, Darling childishly knocks her brother's arm. "Take that back!"

If he was his scrawny teenager self, he would have exclaimed 'ow!' by now. But Dexter's not a kid anymore, he's grown and he's just trying to handle things like an adult, okay?

"No, it's true! Darling, Mother let's almost anything slide if you say you want it as a birthday gift, remember?" Dexter answers.

And Darling thinks back to all the impossible tasks she pleased for. Like when she was sixteen and finally get the White Knight as a birthday gift after begging, and fighting tooth and nail for it. Or seventeen when she managed to pursue her mother to let her spend her last year at Ever After High. Or eighteen and started working in that dingy place Chase works at. Yes, it's worked a lot of times.

But it doesn't always work. Exhibit A: when she was twelve, and both she and Dexter pleaded for her not to be sent off to that girls' boarding school. Exhibit B: that call on her twenty-first birthday to quit her job (though Daring and Dexter pulled a few strings for that).

"That's not how things work, Dex." Darling repeats, shaking her head. "We're not going to talk to Mother about this."

"You can't just leave." Dexter utters, eyebrows still pulled together.

"I know. I know." I'm tired of running away. "We'll figure things out, okay?" Darling replies, hand bunching up her pencil skirt. "We just – We just need to think. We haven't even thought of a reasonable argument for me to leave."

Her brother sighs. "I still think you should tell Mother about Chase. I mean … it's not original, but, Dare and I have done it. We're pretty stubborn about staying with our significant other. And going after a person you love is somewhat reasonable. Especially someone your age."

Darling doesn't say anything on the Chase issue, only pointing out, "We're twenty-three, Dex." Isn't being in your twenties the dumbest times of your lives? The most regrettable where you're hopelessly lost?

"Yeah, which is why I say, tell Mother on our birthday. We'll be twenty-four in a few weeks." Dexter replies like that's some sort of reason itself.

Darling only exhales in frustration.

So Dexter encourages, "Think about it. You'll have not only Rae and I backing you up, but also Dare and Rosabella. Mother will know you mean business since both Dare and I are committing to it. I know you still want to argue on your passion for your old job, I'm not saying the switch isn't a good one, because it is, I'm just saying, Mother will give you a hard time it. Even more so if you don't tell her about this guy you're practically running off with. He works at the same place, doesn't he?"

She wants to say 'I'm not running off with Chase' but really doesn't want to talk about it. So she just shrugs, "Yeah, he does."

"Uh-huh, so you need to be upfront with your feelings, Darling. Look at Rae and I," Dexter says and pictures his girlfriend. "It's taken years but Mother's finally accepted Raven and I being more than just high school sweethearts. Yeah, something Mother still acts cold, she's difficult to please, but, you still need to tell Mother in advance. Phrase it right."

"But, I …" Darling starts then trails off.

Dexter gives his sister a side-way glance. The grip around the steering wheel tightens. "But you what?"

"But I …" Darling swallows. If she had a napkin in her hand, she'd shred it to pieces from nervousness. "Here's the thing … you're gonna laugh when I tell you."

"Darling." A warning hummed behind Dexter's throat.

"Um, I … I don't even know if I like Chase." Darling admits, making a face.

Dexter makes the same face. "What?"

Her hands start moving as she talks, "I, I – I mean, I've been trying to tell you and the girls that for ages now, I honestly don't know if I like him." Let alone love him.

"What do you mean you don't know?! You talk about him all the time, you tell me all these wild stories about him, you say you miss him every day, you're legitimately willing to fight Mother so that you can work and be within proximity with him, I don't – Well, shit."

"I'm confused, okay? So do I really have to tell Mother something I'm not entirely even sure of myself? One whiff of hesitation and Mother will tear me to shred!" Like a napkin. "Can't I just – reason something else? Make up a lie, even? I'm good at coming up with things on the spot!"

"I don't think any of your spontaneous ideas will save you this time."

"You never know." Darling argues weakly with her twin, blue eyes now avoiding his gaze and looking out the window.

"I …" Dexter only shakes his head. He feels a headache pulsing on his temple. "We'll talk to the others and talk things through, see how things work out, okay?"

"Okay." Darling continues looking out the window, continues letting the hum of the engine lull her.

Looks like they're back to the drawing board. Back to square one.


The four are gathered back at Wonderland Haberdashery and Tea Shoppe with warm tea and cakes and worries.

"Okay, so there's a strong possibility that Darling might like Chase." Maddie is the first to say it out loud, admitting the issue. "I see how this might serve as a problem, feelings are weird." Maddie continues then asks, "But, do we know if Chase even likes you back?"

Raven makes an 'oh' face and Dexter turns to his sister for the answer. Darling doesn't say anything, there is silence around the table.

Maddie continues rambling, "We need to think, people! What if he doesn't feel the same way? We can't allow that! We need to make sure Darling's efforts aren't wasted!"

Raven nods and turns to her silver-ish blonde friend, "Darling?"

Darling immediately feels a rock sit in her stomach. "I mean ..." She pauses, clenching her teeth together. "I know Chase likes me."

"He told you?" Dexter blinks at his sister.

Yeah, like years ago. So is that even valid?

"Um," Darling thinks for a moment. God, how blind was she to not notice? "He's … hinted it … strongly."

"That's great!" Dexter grins handsomely.

"Y – Yeah …" Darling agrees weakly, nodding, before following up. "And, uh …"

"And?" Raven leans in.

"Um, he sort of …" Darling trails off again, sweating buckets. Should she keep this to herself? God, why did she say 'and'? Stupid! "He …"

"He?" Dexter pressed on.

"Um," Darling looks down at her tea and grabs a napkin. She tears it and tries to think of a convincing lie. None comes to mind. "Y – You know what? Never mind! Disregard everything I've just said –"

"Spit it out!" Maddie slams her hands on the table like this is some interrogation.

"Hekissedmeonce, okay?" Darling says quickly, face turning red.

"What?!" Dexter blanches, choking on his own drink.

Raven quickly rushes to pat his back. And while he was hacking away, Raven asks, "Are you leaving out any other details?"

Darling's eyes go wide from guilt. Everyone caught that look.

"Say it!" Maddie whacks her friend on the shoulder.

"Hey! That hurt!"

"Out with it!"

"Wha – No! It's embarrassing!" Darling raises her hands to stop Maddie's tiny fists from causing any damage. It's weird to see the owner of a tea shop abusing an office lady.

"You're insinuating you've done stuff!" Maddie yells. "Stuff that I think isn't PG-13!"

"That's – No! Nonono! Chase is a total gentleman, he'd never – You guys are crazy! We're just –" Darling stutters and says just as fast as before, "We'vesortoftalkedaboutmarriage."

"WHAT?!" Maddie yells so loud she may as well lose her voice.

"And you never said anything?" Raven asks, just as shocked.

"I mean, he asked and it sounded like a proposal and, and – Honestly? I don't remember what I said anymore."

Both Raven and Maddie sigh into their hands.

Dexter, now not struggling to breathe, doesn't know what to do but exaggerated, "You turned him down, you can't go back from that!"

"I said I don't remember if I rejected him or not! I don't remember if I panicked or laughed it off or – or – if I even answered at all! I don't know!"

"This is a mess," Raven mutters, face still in her hands.

"Guys!" Darling exclaims, her cheeks growing hot. "You're pressuring me!"

"He kissed you AND proposed!" Maddie throws in cold, hard facts.

"I'm having trouble figuring out if I like him now, what makes you think I would have figured it out back then?" Darling argues back and the trio clams their mouths shut. "All we did we travel together – it wasn't weird!"

"It is. It's not normal." Raven reasons now. "Darling, I don't think you get it. Alistair and Bunny have travelled the world together, same as you and Chase, and I can tell you by the stories they told us, they've faced similar outcomes as you two. It's unfortunate that they don't have any reception to video call us but I can tell you, Alistair and Bunny are very much in love, so you need to face the facts!"

But Darling stops her friend, shaking her blonde head and squeezing her blue eyes shut. "No, you guys don't get it!" She shouts, picks up another napkin then glares at it. "I really don't know if I like Chase back! He's a great guy, he's nice and a sweet and any person would be lucky to have someone like him but I can't decide, okay? I don't know! I don't!"

The table reverts back to a quiet state. Like a blanket has fallen over it. Then someone speaks up.

"You clearly do. I don't understand why you won't admit it." Raven says, but not in a pushy way.

"It's because – it's ..." Darling trails off and rips the napkin in her hands into little pieces. She digs in the archives of her memory though there's no need. The answer is clear why she's like this. Why she holds back. Why she won't admit it. "It's ... the thing with Apple."

"… Apple White?" Dexter echoes, raising an eyebrow. He hasn't personally heard from the blonde since high school.

Darling nods. Has she even talked about Apple with her brothers or any of her friends after the break-up back in high school or did they just leave that topic and never come back to it? Sure, Darling's hinted it plenty of times but …

Raven presses on, "You mean your ex?"

"Yes." Darling nods again.

"But didn't you break-up with her?" Maddie asks.

"Yes, but –"

"Darling, you were seventeen." Dexter reasons. "It's been years."

"You say that, Dex, but you and Raven became a couple when you were sixteen. A year younger than I was when I was with Apple. How is that any different? Besides the fact that your relationship worked out and mine didn't? It's been years too but –" Darling cuts herself off. "Look, I'm not saying I'm still hung over Apple. I got over her years ago and I sort of understand her the position she was in now that I'm older but I'm just – I –"

It was never about Apple. Never about her as a person. It was the hurt that came with it. It was the fear that someone would break her heart again. Because after a break-up like that, Darling just couldn't help but think there was something wrong with her. That it was her fault for not seeing all the signs, for not taking action, for maybe not preventing the relationship ending or maybe not beginning at all. She never got that closure. And that stung. That break-up hurt a lot and she never wanted to put herself in that sort of position again (even if it meant her suppressing her feelings).

Darling knows she should move past it, it's been almost seven years, God damnit, but she … She's still –

"You're scared of getting hurt again." Dexter finishes his twin's sentence, reading her mind.

She nods, a small gesture. The tea sits cold and cakes untouched. Darling was being honest when she said she hasn't felt this way in a while. Not since Apple.

"Yes, I'm scared, okay? I'm scared." Darling admits. And that heartache is the source and reason of her always wanting to run away. "Which is why I'm telling you –" Darling continues trying to dismiss the issues. "– that I'm not –!"

In love.

Can't decide if she wants to be love. Can't decide if she deserves it.

She –

All of their words overwhelmed her and just as suddenly as it began, Darling stopped tearing the napkin into little pieces. Pushing herself away from the table, Darling stood up abruptly and caught the attention of the three around her. Without saying a word, she started walking a certain direction and opens the door of the café, letting cold air in. Yes, it's close to February.

"Darling?" Dexter asks, blue eyes wide with confusion and protectiveness.

"Where are you going?" Raven asks, feeling the need to grab Darling's shoulders and spin her around. Raven was afraid Darling was running away again, she felt somewhat guilty for encouraging the behaviour in her youth then not saying anything about it years later.

"A walk!" Is all Darling replies and stuffs her hands deep into her pockets. She doesn't turn back at her brother and her friends but calls over her shoulders, "I need some fresh air!"

"But –!" Dexter calls back.

Darling only shot her brother a look in which he raised his hands in defence.

"I'll bring out some scones and more tea!" Maddie says as loud as her little lungs can manage. "Will you be back in ten minutes?"

"Make that fifteen!" Darling answers and lets her silver shoes carry her.

Chapter Text

the sleepless elite


chapter twenty-eight


 


Love is like a rainbow, it's endless. But, for goodness sake, go after it!

– Unknown (but probably my housemate Melody)


Darling remembers simpler times.

Times of when all she wanted was to stop growing restless and tired. Times where she had grown tired of unintentionally upsetting Mrs Jester when she visited Chase's house in her pyjamas, tired of the scones Maddie served her at the tea shop and tired of the Nutmeg Hocus lattes she would grab with Raven.

Back then, Darling knew wanted to do something – anything – that was not here. Because back then, she was stuck at Book End while everyone (literally everyone; her brothers, their friends and her friends, heck even her ex) was everywhere else but in this town. But now Darling thinks of it; it may not be a place she wants, but a person.

She's always bouncing all over the place but nowhere ever seemed to stick.

It may be cheesy, but she wants someone she can come home to since she's always struggling with the very concept of 'home' itself. She never felt like she fit it. It's suitable to say she feels like a person who hasn't had any sleep for days yet also feels like a person floating between dreams. And, for her to find someone – company to share her yearnings, have a shoulder to lean on and someone to laugh with – would mean everything to her.

But the question is: who.

Who?

Leaning into her open palm, pale lashes fluttering and head off in space, Darling starts thinking about what Dexter had said to her about love.

Such a tricky thing, really.

Her fingers drums against her glossed lips, the same place where Chase pecked her about three years ago. It was out of nowhere and unexpected but it wasn't ... bad, it could even be said that it was … pleasant?

If she had the time to kiss him back then – Wait a minute!

Why is she thinking of this? Chase Redford is –

He is the opposite of who she'd imagine she'd ever be with, let alone spend her entire life with. Chase is curious and adventurous like her but also too careful. She was still childish while he's too mature for his own good (and riddled with anxiety). She guesses he is attractive, with his kindness, helpfulness and polite manner; dark hair, cornflower blue eyes and deep dimples; impossibly tall stature, wide shoulders and clever hands; but she's never thought of him that way. Chase was just Chase to her.

He is special to her, without a doubt, but … Her stomach didn't do flips when she had first laid eyes on him. Her heart didn't flutter when they talked nor have her palms feel sweaty.

Chase is one of her favourite people, one of her best friends and kind of like an older brother (but also not really, because older brothers are not always as kind as Chase. Darling remembers being young and witnessing Daring telling Dexter to 'shut up' when all Dexter had ever done was sneeze). Maybe that was a bad analogy? A protector, Darling supposes. Chase was a like a protector to her, because when she was around him, all she felt was safe.

(But was that good enough to justify 'being in love'?)

Darling means ... well, with Chase ...

She's seen this man pee on the side of the road! Well, not like see see because she knew he would have been embarrassed and never live it down, she's not that nosy. It's just one of her weird travel adventure stories with Chase. She remembers that day clearly, with Chase apologising profusely due to their circumstances of being stranded in the middle of nowhere. Darling recalls a blush crawling up Chase's neck and him constantly turning his head to check if she was looking and him saying 'Don't look!' and her going, 'I won't!'. He had asked, 'Are you sure?' which had resulted with her throwing her hands up in the air to exasperate since her back was to him and he couldn't see her face. She ended up yelling, 'Just go pee already, Chase! Do I have to cover my ears too?!' 'Actually –' 'Oh my God, you're impossible!' 'Can you move further away?' 'I literally have to shout to talk to you, I am far enough! Also, I have brothers!' 'What does that even mean?!'

She can't help but laugh quietly at this memory. Flipping nerd, like she'd invade his privacy like that!

Darling's seen the good, the bad and the ugly in Chase. Seen him help strangers out of the kindness of his heart and go off to pee at the side of the road when they were miles away from civilization and road rage when blinkers weren't involved.

Chase is a lot of things to her. She thinks, whatever they have it's more of a comfortable friendship than an intense romance like her brother and friends suggest.

And yet ... she's considering it.

.

.

.

"You must think I'm crazy, Chase! You must think I've lost my mind!" The memory of her says between thunder strikes, in a garage when the sky was green. "Why can't I move on?!"

A candle flickers and illuminates the tiny garage. "I don't know. I don't know, Darling. But I do know you'll move on from this. You're insanely sweet –"

"No, I'm not –"

"– And you're amazing –"

"Liar –"

"– And you're funny and cool and – "


"Are you still thinking about it?" Rosabella asks, waking Darling from her daydream.

Darling jolts, back now straight and blue eyes awake. "I'm … actually not all that hungry. I'll just have something to drink." Darling says, snapping her menu shut.

Rosabella offers a smile and puts her own menu down before calling a waiter.

All the while Rosabella orders, Darling simply stares at her oldest brother's girlfriend. She's never been that close to Rosabella but she wants to treat Daring's saviour, it's the least Darling could do. Darling is glad Rosabella got involved in Daring's life though, she really pulled him through, this woman and the rest of the Beauty family are the light of Daring's life (it's a shame the others couldn't come).

"So what's on your mind?" Rosabella asks when the waiter leaves. She pushes her glasses up the bridge of her nose in a serious manner before tilting her head, making her brown hair fall prettily down her shoulder. Sometimes Darling forgets that Rosabella Beauty was the girl who was crowned Prom Queen and not Apple White.

"N – Nothing." Darling stutters then looks around the restaurant. "Just … the weather? It's really cold, isn't it?"

Rosabella only offers a small laugh then shakes her head, "You're really like Daring sometimes, you keep things to yourselves. Really, Darling, you can tell me. I like listening. I like helping people."

And Darling thinks, Of course, you do, you're a lawyer who volunteers for charities on the weekend.

Lacing her hands together, Darling thinks things through. She's talked a bunch about this to Dexter, Raven and Maddie but so far, they've gone nowhere. Maybe adding another perspective will help?

Hmm …

Maybe not.

"It's really nothing." Darling answers with a light shrug. "I'm just spacing out because I'm tired from work. It's not easy being co-CEO."

"I understand, work is difficult." Rosabella nods understandingly.

Then with almost nothing in common, Darling absentmindedly asks, "So how are you? How's Dare? Has my brother popped the question yet?"

"I'm fine. Fighting for animal rights isn't all sunshine and daisies but I'm managing." Rosabella's face continues to twist with amusement. "As for your other question, ah, I actually asked him."

Rosabella proposed? Dare never said a word! Darling thinks then asks with raised eyebrows, "Wait, really? You asked?!"

Rosabella nods, brown eyes squinting, she takes her sweet time looking at the table and Darling felt a warmness in her chest. Finally, Dare will get his happily ever after!

Then, without any warning, Rosabella tells Darling, "He said 'no',"

Darling's mouth falls open, not making a sound, like a silent scream. There were not enough words in the dictionary to express how she felt.

"What?!" Darling practically exclaims, causing several people to turn their heads at her. "Dare never told me this. Are you okay? Are you two still together? I'm so sorry, I didn't know, I –"

Holding up her hand, Rosabella hushes Darling's ramblings. "It's okay, we're still together."

"Huh?" The word stupidly tumbled out of Darling's mouth before she can even consider it. Her hand flies over her mouth before she asks, "But he rejected your proposal, how are you two still …?"

"Daring's reasoning was actually quite sweet." Rosabella speaks. "He said he felt like he was relying too much on my family and didn't want to burden us even more by making things official. He said he wanted to handle things himself."

"I …" Darling's face pinches. "I don't get it."

"Daring's been … struggling with his self-worth for a while now." Rosabella answers. "First high school then college then … you know, the incident with your mother. Daring isn't exactly cut out from the Charming will but he isn't exactly on good terms with your family either. Reasonably, this has caused some conflict in his decisions. I know he's happy with my family and our orchid business, but he still feels like …" Rosabella pauses and blinks slowly like she's trying to search for the perfect word. "He wants to prove himself." Rosabella says, to put it simply. "Daring loves me, very much, he wants to say 'yes' when he's ready."

"That's …" Even Darling was lost for words.

"Confusing? I know."

"But – But –"

Darling tries to grasps on her slipping words. She's so lost that she doesn't even regard the waiter setting down their orders and then disappearing. Darling understands that her family is a mess. Honestly, who on earth would want to marry into it? Does anyone even like the Charing family anymore? Darling knows her brothers don't. She doesn't either, but, still!

Darling asks, teetering off the edge of sanity, "When will that happen? When will Dare be ready?"

"Who knows?" Rosabella replies, taking a sip of her drink. "I'm a very patient person, I don't mind waiting, Law is a lot to juggle and I'm still young. But, if you ask me, I think it may take a while. Maybe years?"

"Years?!" Jesus, Mary and Joseph! Darling doesn't think she could ever wait that long!

"Logically speaking, anything could happen. But, I know Daring, and he'll only commit when he thinks he's (finally) pulling his own weight and deserves it."

"But, Dare does deserve it!" Darling blanches, feeling the need to slam her fists on the table or maybe drive to the Beauty estate and kick her brother's butt for putting his happiness of hold! What an idiot!

Rosabella smiles, it reaches her eyes. "I think so too. I think he earned it long ago."

"Then why didn't you say anything? Why didn't you tell him?"

"I did."

"Y – You did? Then why did Dare … Why did he … Why?" Darling pushes for more answers. She doesn't get it. She doesn't! And she wants to understand!

"Well, for one, it's his personal decision and I have to respect that." Rosabella explains patiently "And, secondly, ah, I can also answer you with a quote from my favourite book." Rosabella says with a raised finger. "As Stephen Chbosky said in The Perks of being a Wallflower: 'We accept the love we think we deserve',"

Those words hit Darling like a brick to the face. She hasn't thought of The Perks of being a Wallflower since the movie came out years ago. She never picked up the book despite being a bookworm because she was afraid of the profoundly sad parts, but now that she thinks about it, it may be a missed opportunity.

Then for the second time today, something else hits Darling like a brick. Like a realisation: Darling's been so scared of even the idea of trying to find love that she never allowed herself to even accept the possibility of herself getting a happily ever after!

Back then when both she and Chase had that deep conversation in his garage, she didn't (read as 'never') expected him to be 'the one'.

Darling was all these things, categorised like 'A, B, C' and Chase was 'X, Y and Z'. They never did see eye to eye, not always, sometimes at most. They were opposites like she said, like she thought. Nevertheless, Darling did know really cared about Chase, and missed him to the moon and back, and if she doesn't admit her feelings right this moment, right now, today then she is a fucking idiot because he likes her (loves her) too and –

She understands now.

Maybe a part of her knew all along, liked him back but never said anything. What was that line, again? 'It happened like falling asleep, slowly then all at once'? Sound very John Green. It's probably by him. She's really got to stop reading these Y/A books.

But, um, isn't there also a scientific fact? One that says you're an entirely new person after seven years? Yeah, that's her. That's her right now, she's turning a new leaf!

She really wants to beat herself up for it! How did she not see it? Chase is always on her mind, like a song stuck on repeat, like a tattoo permanent, forever-lasting on her mind and –

Oh, good God, she's in love with Chase Redford! It took her so freaking long for her to realise this! Dexter was right, she was scared, but not anymore! She won't suppress her feelings any longer! She's blocked it out long enough! So much so that she forgot what love felt like. Or maybe it was a different kind of feeling? Well, these feelings are a lot different on Chase's end. She guesses not all love feels the same way. And that was what was so scary about falling love.

But, she was in love.

She was without a doubt in love!

She was –

"I have to go, Rosabella." Darling says, standing up suddenly, making her chair screech hideously and making heads turn again.

Rosabella stops cutting into her food. "You haven't even touched your drink."

"I – I have to go." Darling mutters then throws enough money on the table to cover the bill and generously tip the waiter. "I'll talk to you later!" Then she rushes off and lets her silver shoes take her away again.


'I am not!'

.

.

.

'I am –'

.

.

.

Running to her nearest friend, back to theWonderland Haberdashery and Tea Shoppe, with her chest heaving and her feet hurting from it hitting the ground too hard, Darling Charming throws the door open and slams her bare hands on the cashier counter, scaring anyone within proximity.

"C – Can I help you?" A waitress asks, afraid that Darling would be an angry customer.

Darling only looks past the young girl and instead looks at her dear friend Madeline Hatter. All she could manage are two words.

"I am!" Darling exclaims like those two things were a sentence itself.

"Wait, what?" The waitress turns her head and gives a fellow worker a confused look. Her expression read 'what just happened?'

Her friend only lifts a shoulder.

"About time!" Maddie mutters like she could read minds then grins widely. "Darling, I told you this story a long time ago, didn't I? The one about me wanting to work beside my Daddy at the tea shop? I waited for thirteen years, and let me tell you, every second was worth it. But if I had to wait any longer, I would have gone mad! So I say, if you cannot postpone it, do it now!"

.

.

.

'I am –'

.

.

'– in love!'

Chapter Text

the sleepless elite


chapter twenty-nine


 


Darling has hyped herself to have that talk. It's her birthday and she isn't exactly ready, per se, but she is determined to have this excruciating conversation. That is, until he texted her and all her plans flew out the window.

Math manic Ace Spades had texted her out of the blue, dropped a bomb on her and now Darling's rushing. Now Darling's scrambling and running around like a crazy lady, all mad and no poise. She's texting Ace back; with her fingers flying and trembling over the keyboard, asking when he'll be at the Charming estate to pick her up. She needs him in her driveway with his ridiculous beat-up car before she chickens out, she certainly can't drive by herself, she's too all-over-the-place.

Darling feels a rock has settled in her gut. She's so nervous that she thinks she might puke. She really really really needs a friend.

She's pacing, far from ready but waiting eagerly at the front door. Darling would run to her destination if she has to. But she's stopped, frozen by a single person; someone she doesn't want to talk to.

"My darling, why aren't you at work?"

Darling's feet stay still. She pauses then turns and stares. "Mother ..."

"Why aren't you at work?"

'It's my birthday,' Darling wants to say but doesn't. She can't. Her mouth is clamped shut. She doesn't answer.

This is not the time. She thinks.

Unfortunately, Darling can do nothing as her mother crosses the hall and closes the gap between them. Mrs Charming looks hauntingly elegant; with her dress sweeping behind her like a cape; dainty hands clasped together all composed; chin tipped all regal-like.

"Are you sick?" Mrs Charming asks, face expressing concern. The older woman steps forward, touching her daughter's forehead.

Darling resists the urge shudder out a shaky breath. Her phone beeps in her hands, probably a text from Ace stating how he's 'OTW to pick her up'. Hopefully, he's not stuck in traffic. Darling finds her blue eyes flitting out the window. She wants to be out there. Not in here. She wants to go –

Her chin is yanked back, like her thoughts, "My darling, I asked you a question."

"N – No, I'm perfectly fine, Mother." Darling finds herself saying lamely. The ruse would have worked if she hadn't flinched at the use of 'perfect'. "I just ... I have to go somewhere."

"Where?" Mrs Charming prods. Even for a woman her age, she ages well, like fine wine. She still looks proud (and terrifying) as she did in her youth.

"Out." Darling squeaks. She was nervous before and she's even nervous now. There's no way of concealing it.

Mrs Charming squints her blue eyes at her daughter and Darling cannot look away, only helplessly stares back like a deer in the headlights. Has she been caught red-handed?

Up until now, Darling never knew whose eye colour she inherited since both her parents possessed blue eyes. It's easy to see that Daring inherited their father's eyes since both are so bright. And Dexter looks so much like their mother but acts like their father. Darling knows that her eyes are a few shades lighter so ... she guesses her eyes are the same shade as her mother's. Looking at Mrs Charming in the eyes, Darling feels unnerved, like she's staring at a reflection of herself. She wonders if any of her siblings think so too?

"You're not going to see Daring, are you?" Her mother asks, a new fury in her voice. Oh boy. To think, that's how angry Darling looks, the exact same glare as her mother.

Air whooshes out of Darling's lungs. No. No, she's not. But the question still feels scary. "I'm going to see a friend."

"You're not lying to me, are you?" The older woman questions though it sounds like 'You're not running away, are you?'

Shit.

"Mother, please –" I don't have time. "– you need to stop worrying about me." All of the Charming siblings, actually. "I'm fine." Darling repeats.

Her mother never takes her hand off her daughter's face. Always touching, always holding. Darling almost wants to shrink away. She feels twelve again and punished for liking plastic swords and monster trucks over sleepovers and Barbie dolls.

"No, you're not fine." Mrs Charming decides. Well, she's not wrong. A mother's intuition.

Darling's heart starts beating out of her chest, thundering in her ears and making her palms sweat. She really wanted to just book it. Run. But then another text sounds and something snaps within her. There was a switch. A sudden need to fight.

Until Darling's smacked by words she never thought she'd ever hear.

Mrs Charming utters, "You're not fine and neither am I."

What?

Mrs Charming inhales sharply, let's go of Darling's lovely face then tucks away her brown greying hair. She holds herself high and asks, "Have you ever stopped and asked how I felt?"

"Mother?" Darling pauses.

No.

No, she's never done that before.

And Darling voices that, "I've never … No. I'm – I'm sorry." Should she be?

She looks into her mother's eyes and for the first time sees a tired middle-aged woman who just wants to retire. Maybe it's the feeling of sympathy for her mother or maybe Darling's just growing to understand people (like Apple and Chase and herself) but Darling thinks, she sees a hard woman who has tasked herself with building a family.

And not just any family, a successful family, a stable family.

Mrs Charming wants perfection; wants her children to work stable jobs, wants the Charming family business to thrive and wants everyone living near-by just in case anything happens. It's selfish but that's her life goal as a mother. Daring's already a disgrace in her eyes. Meanwhile, Dexter was never the first choice, but he was living up to Mrs Charming's high standards of being 'successful'. And Darling …

Darling didn't fit in anyplace. She was in the middle. Darling who is still wild and adventurous. Yet, to have her 'settle down' back at Book End and 'working' for the family business must have been a huge relief to Mrs Charming.

"Everything's going to be okay, Mother." Darling insists.

However.

However, just because Daring's move away before marriage, just because he's working somewhere other than Charming Co., it doesn't mean all is lost. It doesn't mean Darling will 'succumb' to the same faith. Because it's not so bad. Because Daring is happy.

And Mrs Charming mustn't think her role and effort as a mother is wasted. What her mother doesn't understand is –

"Will it?" Her mother asks. "With this sort of behaviour, will things be okay?"

"I'm really sorry for your hardship, Mother, but, please, stop this."

What her mother doesn't understand is that neither she nor Daring are disappointments just because they don't follow these cookie-cutter rules. Both blondes are successful as they are; they know what attainable jobs they like; they have a roof over their heads and they have people they care about.

Mrs Charming's mouth falls open but she says nothing.

"You're tired, Mother." Darling says with a hand on the older woman's shoulder. "You're tired of worrying. You're tired of insisting and harping your way."

"I am."

"You just want everything to stop and settle."

"I do." Mrs Charming whispers softly and Darling watches her mother's mask break.

She knows that feeling. Darling knows her mother is tired (so is she). She knows her mother just wants to get her children in check so that she can finally rest but it's not that easy! Motherhood is a job that is never-ending. And plans never work out.

Darling can't be like Dexter or Maddie, Briar or Rosabella, Apple even. She can't follow in their footsteps and work at a family business. But that doesn't mean she doesn't love her family for not following that dream job.

Darling just wants to be herself. Something that took her years to find. She's finally found herself, damn it! And she'd rather fight tooth and nail than lose herself again.

"You can relax now. You don't have to work so hard." Darling says further. There's this sea of emotion. She doesn't even know how the conversation started. It feels like it's coming to a close though.

Then her blue phone starts buzzing. It's a phone call. It's Ace. He's here.

Darling ignore the call and finds herself saying aloud, "I want to see him, Mother, so badly, and you can't stop me." It's so cliché but she means every damn word.

"Who?"

No time for introductions! "Someone special!" Darling calls, one foot already out the door. And before she completely leaves the premises, she shouts, "Also, I'm quitting Charming Co. Today. As of now." May as well just throw that in there.

"W – What?"

"I have to go!" Darling says, leaving her mother's shocked face.

"Darling?!" Her mother calls after her, hiking her dress and standing by the grand door all tragically. Translation: What's going on?

"I'll be back, um, I think? I – I dunno!" She did not think this through!

"My darling?!" There's no way that Mrs Charming will run after her daughter. A lady does not run.

Darling stops, only to turn back to the silhouette of her mother. But only because there's still no sight of Ace's stupid old car. Where the hell is he?

"I'll talk to you tonight!" Darling hollers.

It's not to say Darling now trusts her mother, that may take a while, maybe even a few years, but Darling will get there. Darling's an adrenaline junky, but she can take things slow.

"I want to talk, get everything sorted, but you have to listen, okay?!" Darling promises.

"I don't understand!"

"I have to go now!" Darling says, feeling herself become the white rabbit, hurrying against time. She still has to compose herself and tell Chase what's on her mind. She hopes she can do just that before Ace comes because if he sees her in this state, he'll make fun of her for sure.


Darling only has a few minutes at best before that Math nerd arrives.

Blue nails click and fingers clutch onto her phone with uncertainty. Chase is on a plane back to Book End as we speak and Darling has to leave him a voice message now, before that hunk of metal lands and before she becomes a flustered mess. According to all those voice mails they've left for each other, there's still evidence of love and their spark isn't lost.

It'll be embarrassing to say all her thoughts and feelings while standing out in the open like this, Darling would rather hide somewhere in her own private corner, but ... she thinks, it's time she finally stops running away.

Romance movies never explained to her how big declarations are delivered so smoothly. She thinks she has an idea but that's not her. She's a Charming but she's also human. And right now, all Darling wants to do is sit down with Chase and talk like old times.

"Can you answer the phone? I need to talk to someone. No, not someone. Not just anyone. You." She declares in a new voice mail and she knows he's not that dumb to not get the hidden message behind her words. "I need to talk to you. Please call me back."

Chapter Text

the sleepless elite


chapter thirty


 


A far away memory invades her thoughts, like a dream or a reminder, "Tell me when you're twenty-four," he had said to her and she promises that she will.

.

.

.

"Hello? I got your voice mail, is something wrong?" God, it was so good yet strange and also comforting hearing Chase Redford's voice on the other line.

"Ace told me!" Darling panics, the first few words she says to him over the call. Her phone is pressed painfully hard against her ear because she doesn't want to miss anything he says to her.

"What?" Chase asks back. There's shuffling on the other side of the line.

"About your surprise visit." Darling says hurriedly and leaves out, 'To Book End. For my birthday'. She feels her stomach clench. On the other line, she hears Chase groan. But she doesn't give him a chance to speak. "Don't go anywhere, Chase."

"Huh?" He utters.

"I'm meeting you there." Is all she says.

"Um, you want to –? It's so sudden, I mean, me coming here is sudden too, I didn't even ask if I could meet up with you today. Are you sure you want to meet me here? I haven't even gotten my luggage yet and –"

"We'll be there," Darling answer heartily, trying to sound normal. Begone sweaty palms!

"Who's 'we'?" Chase echoes in confusion.

"Me and Ace. He's coming with." Darling answer, trying to not hit Ace who's cracking behind the steering wheel. She's already a nervous wreck so could Ace just shut up?

"You're both coming to the airport?"

"Uh-huh, yeah, stay right there! Stay, okay? Stay!" Darling says but it feels like much more that. Even Chase has to take a few seconds to consider her words.

Then he finally says, "Okay, I'll wait." More shuffling sounds. Chase has probably spotted his luggage and lifted it off the conveyor belt.

"Great!" Darling holds back a sigh of relief. "Also, Chase, um – I have to tell you something when I get to the airport."

"What is it?" Confusion was laced in his voice when he says this, she's making him ask so many questions. He doesn't understand.

But Darling doesn't answer his question, opting to say, "Did you notice that I left you another voice message?"

"Yeah. But I called you straight after the first one because it sounded urgent." As Darling expected! Today is crazy but everything is falling into place!

"Not as urgent as the second voice mail." She says as Ace turns a corner. "Listen to that after this calls end, okay? We'll talk again when I see you in person."

"Can't you tell me now while we're on the phone?" Chase says, holding back a cliché need to say 'I want to make this call last longer because I seriously miss you'.

Darling leans forward in her seat, unable to contain herself. Her only heart is beating loudly in her chest for the second time today. God, how do people keep secrets? "In person, Chase." She repeats. What doesn't he get from that?

"You're making me nervous." Is all he replies.

"I'm nervous too."

"About what?" If only he knew!

Darling only clicks her tongue and urges him, trying to sound annoyed, "Just listen to it and you'll find out!"

"What's going on, Darling? Are you planning something? What are you plotting? You knew I would plan something like this visit, didn't you?" Chase asks, firing a billion and one questions.

"No, it was totally spontaneous." Darling says, sounding so like her wild self. Then she quickly tells him before she loses her nerve. "Remember, I left you a voice message. It's important. Listen to it. As soon as this call ends." She repeats hurriedly, unable to keep a sentence going without wanting to stop herself from saying too much. Then adds, "Please."

"Seriously, just tell me." Chase answer, feeling silly for just standing in the middle of the airport, not knowing where to go.

"N – No." Darling stands her ground despite tripping on that single word. She's not up for embarrassing herself – yet. She'll do that later when she sees him in person. "You're the one who told me not to use my phone while driving."

"You're – what? You're driving while on the phone? That's a safety hazard!"

"Shut up, stick-in-the-mud!" Ace yells.

"Just sit tight, okay?" Darling tells, ignoring the crazy look Ace has on his face. He must think this is hilarious and that he's won the lottery, scored front seats to this shit show. "Listen to second voice mail while having a cup of coffee or something."

"You're being suspicious." Chase replies.

Darling feels her whole face burn up. God, he's so oblivious and stupid! "Just, listen to it, okay? I gotta go. I'll see you soon. Terminal three, right?"

There's a pause like Chase is looking around. Then an answer, "Yup."

"Okay." And she ends the conversation before he even gets to say good-bye because she doesn't want to say good-bye to him. "See you there! Don't move! STAY!"


This feeling in her chest is exactly like the time she decided to watch a video by The Try Guys. Originally, Darling had figured she would have her spirits lifted and have her mood lighten because those four idiot men were always fun to watch.

Unfortunately, Darling had stumbled upon a tear-jerking, heart-wrenching video that day. Minutes in and she had immediately regretted it because – oh boy – it was a video about Keith's wedding and there was this snippet where Keith recited his vows, going, "And I didn't know how much I needed you until I moved away from you for one year."

Those words hit her hard. In that instant, it was like the world had conspired against her and her mixed feelings. And no words were truer right now than that.

.

.

.

Wringing her hands together, bare fingers intertwine and itching for a napkin to tear to shreds, Darling's blue, blue eyes immediately scan the airport. She looks high and low, left and right.

"I think I might puke." She admits to Ace who stands next to her.

"How romantic." Ace teases back and stops walking when Darling stops in her tracks.

She's spotted Chase sitting in a lone table at a cafe. Her feet won't work. She can't stop staring at Chase from afar.

They seemed to have spotted each other the same time because the moment their eyes met, Darling swears she felt a shiver run down her spine and Chase immediately stands up, abandoning his coffee – which was likely untouched.

No no no, why isn't time stopping? This is happening too fast! Holy –

"Here we go." Ace says under his breath. He's totally amused while Darling is reeling.

Oh God, Chase has definitely listened to her voice mail. Maybe even twice or trice to make sure he hadn't heard it wrong the first time and imagined every word Darling had sprouted. It was embarrassing, oh-so embarrassing, even Darling has admitted that in her voicemail.

Is it too late to turn back –?

Shit!

Fuck!

Now Chase is walking towards her like a man on a mission. He looks straight at her and nobody else while she's rooted to her spot, silver shoes unmoving, feeling like she wants to run away but stops that immediate thought. She thinks she's done enough of that. Took her seven freaking years to stop doing it but at least she's finally doing it!

"S – So?" Darling's the first to speak because she refuses to look like a flustered mess. Her hands are clasped in front of her beating chest, trying to stop herself from shaking. She thinks she's shaking harder than the night of the green storm.

Ace stands away, a little farther to the side as he watches things go down.

Chase doesn't acknowledge his friend at all. Instead, he just looks at Darling, this woman he's been hopelessly in love with for the past few years. His deep cornflower blue eyes are still glazed like he's in a daydream.

Darling suddenly feels intimidated by his silence. But then Chase speaks and that scares her even more because there's this possibility of him saying 'no' and she's doubting herself and freaking out and –

"Did you mean what you said in that last voice message?" Is his first words to her. Not 'hey' or 'how are you' or 'I miss you' or 'happy birthday'. Chase is aware how close he's standing next to her. Darling smells of vanilla. He can't believe he forgot how she smells of vanilla. He hopes he never forget small details about her ever again. Not her cascading silver-blonde hair or the shade of her eyes or the beauty mark on her lovely face; not her obsession over bikes or her strange twin connection or her need to break into his house wearing silky pyjamas.

"Yes." She answers, feeling this familiar nostalgia, voice incredibly small and barely audible. "Yes, I mean it. And, I missed you so much." Darling confesses like it meant everything, voice an octave higher now. "I'm sorry it took me so long."

Chase's face drops from his sleepy phase. He's finally woken up. A hand covers the lower part of his face and he tells her, "I think I might cry."

Her mind is racing – thoughts all over the place, so random and strong that she couldn't decide what to feel. The only thought that triumph over everything is that: Chase is here and she is here and she will never, ever want to leave his side ever again. She doesn't know how to respond to what he had told her. So she says what's on her mind. The thing everyone's been trying to tell her, make her realise, slap some sense into her.

"I love you, Chase." Oh my God, she said it first.

He's really going to cry.

"I love you." Darling says again, meaning it, afraid he hadn't heard it the first time. Not that this is the first time she said it. The first time is on that stupid voice message that she had put together through ramblings on her driveway.

Chase makes choke sounds which Darling can't really understand but she'll take it.

Then without thinking, she hugs him.

"Don't –" She starts, holding him tight like she's scared he'll disappear into thin air. His chin is tucked on that familiar spot on the top of her silver-ish blonde head and she's probably squeezing the life out of him. He's probably too polite to tell her that but she doesn't care. A part of her is terrified that if she lets go, for even just a second, they'd get separated again – miles apart. The strong arms he wraps around her turns that fear around. "Don't you ever let me make such a stupid decision again."

"And what decision is that?" Chase jokes like old times, reminding her of her reckless teenage days and their long history. His voice sounds cracked. Oh, he's definitely crying happy tears. Such a nerd!

"Leaving. Leaving you." She tells him.

"You know I never wanted you to leave." He murmurs, she feels his words move and stir and hum as she's pressed against his chest. She's positioned perfectly to hear his heart beat – it's soothing and slow and so reassuring.

"Holy shit." The curse slips past her lips, she's too overwhelmed. "You're so cheesy, Chase." The grin she's fighting off can't be tamed. It's infectious, spreading wider and wider. Then she pulls slightly away, just to see his handsome face, "Do you feel the same about me?"

"Wow, that's a loaded question, Darling, you didn't even ask me how my flight went."

If her hands weren't still wrapped around his waist, she'd hit him. "Shut up and answer the question. I've told you three times already, I'm not going to repeat it!" Darling practically yells, face aglow. She's trying to be angry but she's over the moon and he's just teasing her.

"I dunno," Chase gives her a sly smile. "You tell me." He says, then kissed her (again).

.

.

.

She kissed back this time.

.

.

.

She's twenty-four and she finally tells him how she feels, he meant it when he said he wanted to be her left hand man and Ace screams, "Chill friendship, my ass!"


Mamma mia, now I really know why I could never let you go!

– ABBAMamma Mia 

Chapter Text

the sleepless elite


chapter thirty-one


 


The world is wide, I wanna make some memories

– DonnaMamma Mia! 2: Here We Go Again


"I'm so excited!" Darling says, gushing over the news from her twin, Dexter, yet again. She drums her hands on the outdoor cafe table; the rings on her finger rattle the table further, making her act noisier and louder, she's vibrating with glee.

From across the table, Chase smiles. He takes a sip of his smooth latte and looks around the Parisian streets. Yup, they're in the city of love (and they spent the first day visiting museums and turning priceless art into memes).

"Dex is finally getting married to Raven!" Darling squeals further. "God, the wedding is going to be a dream, they've been in love for ages!"

Chase continues smiling and reaches over to hold Darling's hand. It's so nice that they can talk about marriage so openly.

Sometimes, Chase wonders if he's dreaming. But, then that wouldn't be possible because he remembers every event leading up to this day; from their first meet up at that bar, Darling being passionate about motorbikes when she showed up at his workplace, the silky feeling of her pyjamas, the confession at the airport.

"It's a shame we have to go back to Book End so soon." Chase says.

"It is a shame." Darling answers, she feels her rings press against his intertwined fingers.

On their second day in Paris, they went to the Lourve and they ended up looking like sad children forced to take a picture because it started to rain. But, it could have been worse. Back when they were in Greece, Darling remembers about the crazy speed limits. That law was not obeyed. It was Darling's dream and Chase's nightmare.

Their third day was spent at the Notre-dame. Darling did feel a little lied to, like the time she was at, again, Greece and found out the Mamma Mia! island was actually three separate islands. The Notre-dame was ... shorter than what The Hunchback of Notre-dame made it out to be. The steps where Quasimoto's mother fell were missing too and there was no well that Judge Claude Frollo almost threw baby Quasi down. But the architecture was beautiful and eighty percent accurate so that was more than fine. The statutes that were engraved into the Notre-dame looked and felt powerful and strangely frightening all the same.

"But, you'll be there by my side so everything will be okay." Darling says smoothly.

"Oh?" Chase answers, almost teasingly, squeezing her hand.

"Hmm,"

Now that Darling thinks about it, Chase is like a good mix of everything she likes about her friends. He has Dexter's sense of love (big heart, lots of love to give), Raven's bravery (which says a lot as she has to deal with Mrs Charming and Raven's background isn't all that charming), Maddie wacky sense of responsibility (which is strong since Maddie was often on lookout and started working first among all the others), Alistair's adventurous streak (truly wild) and Bunny's hesitance (sometimes its out of shyness, sometimes fear).

Chase was first and foremost, a friend to her, kind and responsible, and that made her feel so free; like riding down dirt paths and beyond. He was someone near and dear to her heart. He was her version of the sleepless elite. He's someone special to her.

"I love you." Darling says with confidence.

"I love you too." Chase answers without missing a beat.


It wasn't a last minute decision for Darling to stop by the Charming household, it was planned, but Darling isn't so sure that she wants to stop by. Still, it would terrible etiquette for her not to. She has to discuss a few things with her Mother about Dexter's wedding like the bride's maid dress and what hairstyle to put her hair in and what accessories to wear.

"Are you sure you don't want me to wait?" Chase asks Darling. He's willing to pay extra for the cab ride.

"No, it's fine, it may take awhile." Darling says. She feels a little guilty though as she says this, scooting out of the backseat. "I expect my mother's love to choke me to the point where I'll just run out of the house just to get a breather. Go home, I'll White Knight to ride."

"Are you sure?" Chase double checks.

"Positive." Darling says, kisses him quickly on the cheek then slams the door close. She waves him good-bye from the taxi then turns around, inhales deeply, and walks into the Charming estate.

"My darling, you're home!" Mrs Charming greets her daughter by the door, embracing her only daughter.

Darling suppresses making a face at her mother's claims and hugs back. "Hi, Mother."

"How are you? How have you been?" Mrs Charming asks and asks question after question about Darling's well-being while touching and checking Darling's face from different angles.

Darling doesn't know what her mother is looking for, maybe for any signs of weakness, but the pale blonde manages to not roll her eyes. "I'm fine." She answers.

"Just fine?" Mrs Charming bats her dark lashes. "Nothing more to say? Pray tell?"

"Nothing." Darling confirms but feels the need to pull back and hide her hands like she's just had it caught down the cookie jar.

Mrs Charming then asks another million and one questions about Darling's work, something she's trying to gain interest in. And then she asks where Darling's luggage is, in which Darling says she's going to stay with a friend to get ready for the wedding.

"Is it Raven or Madeline?" Mrs Charming asks yet again.

"No." Darling shakes her head, she should be used to her mother being nosy. She doesn't mind all that much though, at least her mother is trying to get involved in her life. "But, don't worry, I'm coming to the wedding, I won't just disappear."

Mrs Charming hums. "You're going to have brunch with your brothers later, aren't you?" She says, walking with her daughter through the house, leading up the steps.

"Yes."

Mrs Charming immediately fusses over Darling. "Please freshen up before you leave. I'm sure a quick shower and a change of clothes will make you look …" The older woman pauses, searching for the right word. "… livelier."

Wow. Darling wants to say she's surprised but she isn't. Leave it to her mother to tell her to look 'appropriate' the moment she steps into Book End. Darling knows she doesn't look the best with her hair tossed in a high ponytail and baggy-ish gym pants but she just came from the airport and these are comfy clothes!

"Yes, Mother." Darling answers.

Darling's still trying to get along with her mother after dropping the bomb of quitting her job at Charming Co. about a year ago. Plus, Darling knows her Mother is trying to change for the better, she likes Raven well enough now to agree to the marriage. A wedding is not something easy to put together.

"Shall we fit you into your bride maid's dress?" Mrs Charming says, sounding genuinely excited for tomorrow.

Darling notes the sparkle in familiar blue eyes. She holds her hands behind her back and says, "Yeah."

So they bond and fuss and have small disagreements like how normal mothers and daughters are supposed to act until Darling manages to convince her mother that she's tired and needs to go.

"Don't forget about our dinner plan tonight."

"I won't." Darling says to her mother's reminder.

She swiftly puts on the nice dress her mother sets on her bed in her old bedroom. But before Darling leaves, she throws on a leather jacket and matching leather gloves then rides away on the White Knight.


"Mom?" Chase gaps hours later when the doorbell rings and he opens the front door, thinking it's Darling.

"What happened to calling me 'Mommy'?" Madam Redford corrects Chase.

"Mom," Chase groans under his breath, letting his mother in. "I'm twenty-nine."

"And?" The older woman asks and taps her cheek, not minding any of this.

Chase's face grows hot. He's embarrassed even though there's no one to see. Still, he sighs then steps closer to his mother, greeting her, giving her a quick peck on the cheek (because he will never stop being a momma's boy).

"What are you doing here?" Chase asks, after pulling away then closing the door and helps his mother towards the sofa.

Madam Redford sits down, posture prim and straight. "I told Mrs Jester to call me if she saw you come back. I tried to call you but you weren't answering." Madam Redford tries explaining. She was the type of mother who only calls and never texts.

"The battery's dead. I'm charging my phone now." Chase answers.

"Still, you couldn't ring me days prior?" Madam Redford raises a brow.

"You know I don't like imposing on your business plans."

Madam Redford only smiles, she's raised a considerate man. She's about to say more when the front door swings open and all eyes turn.


"Chase, I'm back!"

.

.

.

Today's been a whirlwind of jet-lag and a to-be wedding preparation, Darling doesn't think she wants to handle anything more. But there's lunch with her brothers before dinner with her parents. All she wants to do is wind down for a couple of hours with Chase before anything else happens. That, she thinks she can handle.

.

.

.

At least, that's what Darling thinks for the first few minutes until she steps into the house and it's like a needle scratching against a record once her blue eyes find its way to stormy grey eyes.

"Who are you?" Madam Redford asks, turning away from her son.

"Um," Darling stares back.

Oh crap.

Chapter Text

the sleepless elite


chapter thirty-two



Darling remembers how Chase had described his mother, 'a real strict woman but great, nonetheless', and smiles. She takes this chance to walk across the room and shake Madam Redford's hand. Darling doesn't want to ruin her first impression with Chase's mother.

"Hello, ma'am. I'm Darling." Darling says while Chase stands still, internally panicking.

"Oh, 'Darling', what a beautiful name." Madam Redford says politely then asks, "And what is your last name, dear?"

Darling exchanges a quick look with Chase, in which he's making a face. Madam Redford catches this but doesn't say anything.

Darling is quick but also nervous to fix the whole situation by saying, "Um, my family name is 'Charming',"

"The Charming?" Madam Redford gaps.

"Well, my family name has a lot of branches but you may know my father, he owns the local news company. He's on TV a lot. My mother helps from time to time but she's an independent businesswoman. She mostly runs the house, though."

"Ah, I can see why you were so nervous to tell me. Don't worry, dear, I won't bite." The older woman smiles.

Darling laughs in return, just to be polite, and Chase looks like he wants to apologise for every bad thing he's done.

Fortunately, Madam Redford doesn't catch this look and only gestures to her son while keeping her grey eyes on Darling. "Chase, it's almost tea time, why don't you go get some fresh cakes for us? That Mad Matter tea shop should have some, tea wouldn't be tea without proper cakes." She says, digging into her purse and pulling out some money.

"Mom, I'm a grown man." Chase finally says something.

"Be a good boy." Madam Redford replies and gestures for Chase to take the money.

Good boy? Darling thinks and now understands why Chase can't exactly break rules when it's in his mother's vocabulary. She's used the special term Chase still conditions himself to believe. It's not exactly manipulative or bad parenting … but the wording could be discussed.

"Um," Chase hums.

Chase feels the need to both disappear and stay put all at once. He can't leave his mother alone with Darling. He's known his mother for a lifetime and Darling for seven years but he still thinks she might misbehave. His mother is old fashion while Darling is in with the times and spontaneous! Sending Darling a helpless panic look, he stands there for a brief moment, frozen and internally panicked.

"Could you get me some tarts?" Darling asks sweetly, low-key a codeword for 'I'll be fine'.

"Tarts?" Chase repeats.

"Yes," Darling answers then says, "Take as long as you need."


"So," Madam Redford says between sips of her tea. "How do you and Chase know each other?"

Darling makes sure to smile and to sit with grace. She wants Madam Redford to like her, and that involves not saying how she and Chase actually met for the first time. Because their face to face 'destiny' or whatever would be a horror show and a lot to explain. How can she casually say, 'Oh, your son told me to meet him at a bar when I was technically underage'.

So Darling bends the truth and says, "We work at the same place, ma'am."

"Ah, so you share the same passion as my son?"

"Yes, I love motorcycles. We actually bonded over sharing the same motorbike model."

"At least you have an interest and common bond." Madam Redford grins. "Pardon me if I sound rude, but I would never imagine a lady like yourself to be interested in motorcycles. If another world, you'd probably be a princess."

Darling only offers a grin in return. "Well, I did go to The Grimm's Institute for Gifted Young Ladies. It encouraged me and a lot of my peers to follow our love for subjects like sciences and engineering," Darling half-lies.

"Marvellous! That's stunning news!" Madam Redford's smile grows wide like Darling is checking all these tick boxes in her head for Chase's perfect bride. "You are such a gift! How long have you known Chase, dear? I don't think he's ever mentioned you."

"Eight years, give or take." Darling answers. "And don't blame Chase, I'm a simple person, there's not much to say."

"So modest! And you say you've known Chase for a long time too! You two must be really good friends!" At this, Madam Redford cannot contain her gleefulness anymore. Her whole face radiates with pure joy. "Would you like to see pictures of Chase as a child?"

Darling's face mirrors Madam Redford's. "Would I!"


When Chase gets back, his mother tasks him with something else.

"Chase, why don't you be a good boy and get us ladies some tea?" Madam Redford tells her son, settling into the sofa with a straight back while Darling is not beside her.

Chase's mouth opens and closes, not knowing what to say. But Darling steps in before Chase can have a total meltdown.

"I'll help Chase." Darling answers though she knows Madam Redford would want more time alone with her. The tea and cakes are a sham. "We – I mean, Chase, did just fly in today. It's been a tiring day. I wouldn't want Chase to overwork himself, he works too hard." Darling reasons smoothly and stands up from the sofa.

Madam Redford smiles. It's a small action before Darling takes Chase's wrist gently and guides him into their kitchen.

Without saying a word, Darling fills the kettle and turns it on, masking their whispered conversation with the noise of boiling water.

"What are you wearing?" Came Chase's question, back pressed and hands gripping the end of the kitchen counter.

"Clothes." Darling replies sarcastically, opening and closing cupboard doors. Oh, so she's being funny now, is she?

Darling convinces herself that she's looking for the tea-set they hardly use and not just covering that she's embarrassed that she's never really dressed nicely around Chase. It's hard when they're always on the road. Pants are just a better option.

Chase looks at Darling as she moves around the kitchen, taking the image of her in, and asks once more, "You own a dress?"

"I own several dresses, actually."

"I've never seen you in a dress, not even a skirt, just pants." Chase mutters like he's in a daze. Half of her expects him to blurt out 'you look pretty' but, instead, he just says, "I'm so confused."

"You're just nervous because your mom's here." Darling answers, "Where's our tea-set? Am I going mad? Did I imagine it existed or is it just misplaced?"

Chase pushes himself off the kitchen counter and walks over to the cupboard Darling is glaring at. She hasn't opened it on the account that she refused to let it be her last hope. She wants to impress Madam Redford but she doesn't want to open the damn thing and be disappointed.

"It's here. I placed it on the top shelf." Chance answers, standing over her.

"I can't reach that high." She says, not moving away from the cupboard. She's basically in the way.

"I know." Chase answers. As he stands behind her, Chase wraps his left hand on Darling's forehead like a shield, a cool metal feeling pressed into her skin, while he uses his right hand to open the cupboard door. He knows she's not that short but he doesn't want to risk her banging her head.

"I'm not a baby." She says, looking at him over her shoulder.

"Uh-huh." He teases her, nervousness going down.

Then swiftly, he grabs three cups, three saucers, a teapot and tray. But she spins around before he can arrange everything. She's still stuck between the counter and Chase, she can't really go anywhere, so she just crosses her arms.

"I want to impress your mom. Let me." Darling tells him.

"Well, initially it was just supposed to be only me and you said you wanted to help, so I can't let you do all the work."

"Hmm," Darling hums, now picturing the boxes of tea they have. Choices, choices. "What tea would your mom prefer?"

"Darjeeling." Chase says automatically, without missing a beat. He didn't even need to think, he knows it by heart. He's such a momma's boy.

"Okay." She says, slipping from under his arm and taking out a teabag from another cupboard, "Would you want some chamomile?"

"Do I look that stressed?"

"You're right, no caffeine for you." Darling says.

Chase's shoulders slumps. He looks out to see his mother checking her e-mails before asking Darling, "What did you talk about with my mother?"

"Just how we met." Darling replies and Chase's eyes widen a little. "I told her at work."

"That's stretching the truth but it's … we did hang out there a lot so …"

Darling shrugs. "She also asked how long we've known each other."

"Okay …"

"And she found that album she got you for your graduation gift."

Chase gaps. "The one from me age seven to twenty-one?"

"Uh-huh." Darling nods.

"Oh no." Chase groans. "I know she meant well, the pictures are to show my progress since I became a 'real adult' with my job and everything but … it's so embarrassing. I thought I locked that away somewhere. How did my mom find it?"

"Mom's intuition."

"Oh my God."

"Oh, don't fuss. You were really cute as a child." Darling says. "Why did you have so many Thomas the Tank Engine birthday cakes? I counted, you had them for three years in a row."

"I don't know? That was just the first step of me realising I really like cars and motorcycles."

"Aww. The difference between you at age thirteen and you at age fourteen are amazing. You just shot up. You looked like a totally different person."

"Can we please stop talking about me when I looked like a legit foetus?" Chase only sighs for what felt like the hundredth time and asks, "What else did you and my mom talk about?"

"I also told her where I went to school."

"Ever After High?"

"Kind of ...? I mentioned my boarding school just to sound fancy: The Grimm's Institute for Gifted Young Ladies."

"Wait, you went to Grimm's Institute? You never told me." Chase says, his cornflower blue eyes wide. She hasn't exactly dropped the name of her boarding school, just that it sucked. Grimm's Institute is actually a really good school, it's just super competitive and no fun.

"Well, you never told me you liked Thomas the Tank Engine, either." The conversation just shows that there are still things one can still discover about their significant other after years of knowing each other.

"Still," Chase scrunches his dark brows together. "I didn't know you went to that boarding school. How are you still so rambunctious?"

"No one can contain me." Darling says with a smile.

The kettle whistles, times up.

Chase pours the hot water into the teapot while Darling continues talking, "Breathe, okay? We're going to talk to your mother together. Try not to freak out."

"Why would I freak out?"

He only gets a look in return.


Darling makes sure to sip her drink with her pinky raised, more like a lady than a trapped princess. It's not the years of being in that horribly prim boarding school making her act this way. Darling truly wants to make a first good impression; with her ankles tucked, hands clasped on her knee and a smile that never needed practising, Darling beams at Madam Redford. She's finally grown and become a better person. She's found herself.

They chit-chat for another half an hour before Darling interjects.

"It's been lovely meeting you, Madam Redford." Darling says sincerely, rising from her chair, untucking her ankles. "But, um, I have an engagement with my brothers. Lunch. And, I wouldn't want to run late."

"Oh. Oh, of course, my dear!" Madam Redford replies, already charmed.

Darling flashes a wide smile, one that captures hearts. It's not really a secret weapon, but it works.

Then turning to Chase, she tells him, "I have to go. I'll text you later." Darling wants to prove to Madam Redford that she isn't lying. She honestly wants to spend more time chit-chatting but she's already spent more time at their home than she intended and she really wants to meet her brothers. "Don't panic if I don't respond for many hours, I have dinner with my family. Just wanted to remind you."

"I didn't forget." Chase says.

Then he turns his head just in time for Darling to kiss him lightly on the cheek. He thinks she must have missed his lips but then remembers his mother is here. It feels odd, like bragging to his mother that he's not a loser with no life outside of work. But, again, his mother is here. So Chase just flashes Darling an understanding smile.

She returns it, then she politely bids the two good-bye and she heads out the door to leave.

As soon as the front door closes behind Darling and the sound of the White Knight's engine is heard, Madam Redford turns to her son in awe and asks, "So are you thinking of marrying this lovely lady?" She's not even bothering about personal space or any of that subtle nonsense.

Chase feels himself sweat. And it's not just from the Summer head. And somewhere in his mother's tone, Chase senses her holding back the need to add, 'give me grandkids'. He, unfortunately, doesn't get a chance to explain himself because his mother continues talking.

"I'm only asking because I'm worried about you, sweetheart. I want to know if you're finally ready to settle down."

"Mom!" Chase calls but Madam Redford ignores him.

"You should be married by now. Mrs Jester's daughter is married!"

"Mom!" Chase tries again and fails.

"I'm just saying, it takes a while to find the right person, fall in love, and start a family." Oh, there it is! The grandchildren talk. "It's time you stop with your travelling adventures, hmm? You can work from home!" Madam Redford hums. "Find a nice girl here where you won't live far away from me. I can introduce you to a few lovely ladies if you're not serious with this Darling girl. Don't get me wrong, she sounds like a dream, a real life princess, but I only want the best for you, Chase, and – oh! I'm curious about Lizzie Hearts!"

Wait, what now?

Chase's face drops and Madam Redford stares back at her son at the mention of his childhood friend. But his only response is to look at the older woman like she's just grown two heads. He's the most oblivious person she's ever had the fortune to raise. She knows him well, so she simply clears her throat and tries to suggest some other eligible ladies. "What about –"

"Mommy!" Chase finally gives in.

"Yes?" The older woman finally perks up and listen.

"Uh ..." Chase trails off, confidence now teetering. He just slipped up and called his mother 'mommy'. He hasn't done that since he was twelve maybe. "So ... about that."

"About what?" Madam Redford's grey eyes narrow.

"Darling."

"Oh, yes, that girl you're seeing."

"I ... I'm not just seeing her." He reaches over to touch his mother's hands, his big ones engulfing hers.

She feels the warmth and then a cool tinge. Madam Redford's stormy grey eyes widen, and she sits straighter in her chair. "Explain yourself right now, young man."

A blush immediately crawled up Chase's neck. Oh boy, he's got some explaining to do.


"Chase, who was that princess?"

.

.

.

"… My wife."


Chapter Text

the sleepless elite


chapter thirty-three



It's lunch time and Darling smiles at her brothers as they approached the table. It feels like forever since she last saw them; Dexter looks more mature than he did a year ago, walking with confidence, while Daring looks tanner since Darling's had last seen her oldest brother.

"Darling, hey!" Daring grins, smiling the brightest.

Dexter follows after, jamming his car keys into his pocket then waves. He looks like he's trying his hardest to contain his excitement, he'd probably run towards her and trip on his own feet if he wasn't trying to maintain that mature-ness.

"Sup, bitches?" Darling greets, resting her chin on her gloved hands and giving her brothers an amused look.

Daring pulls a face. "Okay, I was going to say I was happy to see you but now I think otherwise,"

"I missed you too!" She answers sarcastically, standing away from the table.

Dexter hugs the tightest as the twins embrace and Darling feels the press of Daring's broad shoulders against hers along with calloused, hard-working hands as he pats her back. It's all those hours under the sun, all those fruits of labour.

They sit down and smile some more. When Maddie comes along to take their orders, she grins extra wide at Darling like she knows something the Charming brothers do not. It's something that Daring notices immediately but he doesn't get to ask because Maddie announces that the food is on the house then hurriedly leaves.

It's brushed aside briefly by Darling asking Dexter about his wedding plans and Dexter launching into a very detail story about how they picked out the venue. The trio banter and catch up while casually throwing insults here and there until Daring notices something else suspicious. And by the time Darling pushes herself away from the table and excuses herself to the bathroom with a nonchalant, "I need to pee", Daring must ask.

"Hey, aren't you going to take off your gloves?" Daring notes while Dexter chews on the last of his meal.

"What?" Darling blinks back, light blue eyes fluttering. Her back is turned to them, mid-walk.

"I just think it's a little weird that you ate with them on and you're now going to the bathroom and they're still … you know, on your hands. I know it looks cool, especially since you have your leather jacket and motorcycle but …"

"Oh, of course, I just … forgot to take them off." Darling answers casually slips them off, back still turned then slaps the gloves on the table with her right hand. "BRB." She says and disappears.

Dexter doesn't notice anything amiss, but something felt off. Very off. At least, to Daring.

"I think Darling's hiding something from us." Daring says while squinting his blue eyes and leaning to Dexter's side.

"What makes you think that?" Dexter raises a brow.

"Maddie." Daring says.

"How?" Dexter's face twists with scepticism.

"Didn't you catch the smile she exchanged with Darling?" Daring asks, his voice low.

"Dare, normal people smile at their friends."

"It was more than just a regular smile." Daring says, tapping his finger on the table, towards the discarded gloves. "I'm telling you, something is up."

"Uh-huh, sure." Dexter rolls his eyes.

"You're just not seeing things logically because your brain's filled with wedding plans."

"Not true." Dexter crosses his arms.

"What's twenty-eight times four?"

"What?"

"I rest my case." And then Daring adds, "Anyway, have you noticed Darling's hair? It's gotten bigger. Do you know what that means?"

"Darling has thick hair? Or she didn't have time to cut it since she was so busy working?" Dexter guesses. He's not the sibling with great hair, Daring and Darling inherited that, how was he supposed to know the wonders of glorious blonde hair.

"Didn't Mean Girls teach you anything? It's big because it's full of secrets."

Dexter eyes his brother in return before looking down at the blonde's drink. "Dare, you may want to slow down on that Bailey's coffee." Then the brunette adds in his mind, And maybe cut back on the chick-flicks too.

"I'm serious, Dex." Daring deadpans.

"So am I."

Daring glares at his brother for a solid five seconds before Dexter rolls his eyes in response. If Daring wasn't trying to prove a point maturely, he would pick up Darling's leather gloves and hit Dexter with it. Boys will never stop being boys.

"What are you dorks arguing about?" Darling asks, plopping back into her seat.

"You." Daring answers, turning full to his sister.

"Wow, I didn't expect you to be so direct." She says, genuinely surprised. "What's up?"

Maybe it's the years' worth of building up a bullshit detector after uncovering most of the Charming family drama or maybe it's just Daring being the older child and feeling that familiar sense of responsibility, but he senses something. "You tell us." Daring says back.

At this, Darling turns her gaze towards Dexter, who shrugs, which doesn't help much and forces Darling to stare back at Daring.

"What did you do?" Daring questions, a somewhat normal accusation when among siblings.

"You mean, what did I do a few minutes ago?" Darling fakes innocence. "Pee."

"No. You know what I mean, don't play dumb. What crazy schemes did you get up to?" Daring leans forward on the table and plucks a frown.

"I didn't do anything." Darling answers, her voice now high pitched.

"Okay, now even I have to admit it: you do sound suspicious." Dexter finally says. "What did you do?"

"Nothing!" Darling answers frustrated then picks up the dessert menu. "I'm still hungry, anyone want some cake?"

"Don't avoid the question." Dexter gaps, he's now fully siding with Daring. "Didn't I tell you that your spontaneous ideas wouldn't save you?"

Darling frowns and sort of grumbles, hands gripping onto the menu like a shield. "It wasn't a bad idea."

"Aha! So you did do something spontaneous!" Daring slaps his hand on his lap then points to his sister, but not before sending his brother a smug look of satisfaction that he was right. "What is it?"

But he doesn't get an answer because Dexter speaks.

"Darling, what's that?" Dexter asks, voice ringing out clearly across the table. His eyes are wide, as big as saucers, and he won't stop staring.

"What's what?" Daring asks back, gaze snapping, not following the brunette. "Darling?" Daring says warningly, an older brother never stops being authoritative.

From behind her menu, an oh-I'm-in-trouble smile is frozen on Darling's face. But when she lowers it, she pretends everything is fine by batting her eyes oh-so innocently. She sing-songs a merry little, "Yesss?" She makes a quick move to shut the menu close and hide her hands under the table but Dexter catches her left wrist.

"That." Dexter emphasises. He pulls his twin's hand forward, exposing two rings with engraving and a shiny diamond.

Daring follows Dexter's gaze towards their sister's held hand. His jaw drops, barely catching sight of a diamond ring since Darling's making it difficult to see, struggling to snatch her hand back. "Is that an engagement ring? You got proposed to? When?"

"It happened three years ago." Darling answers hastily, still trying to pull away.

"What the shit?!"

"Forget the engagement ring!" Dexter says because he already knew about that. He just didn't know about Darling accepting the proposal but that's whatever now because –! The brunette pushes aside his shock and glares lasers specifically at the elegant golden band around Darling's fourth finger. "Explain this."

"It's not what it looks like!" Darling excuses while Daring's still in a pit of confusion.

Dexter gives her a 'are you serious?' face. "You can't fool me, Darling, I spent months looking at rings when I was planning to propose to Rae! I know what's up, I'm about to be married to her tomorrow, spill the beans!"

In the midst of chaos between the twins, Daring just looks back and forth between his siblings, very lost.

"Okay, so it is what it looks like," Darling admits slowly and finally stops struggling, letting Dexter hold up her left hand.

"You got married in secret?!" Dexter presses and that's when it all made sense to Daring.

"You did what now?!" The blonde man shrieks. Legitimately shrieks.

To be honest, Darling thinks she probably would have been caught sooner or later. Especially when she had been around Madam Redford. Imagine if Darling had said 'Chase, I'm home' instead of 'Chase, I'm back' because that would have unravelled everything.

Heck, everything is unravelling now. Darling had noticed how sharp and attention to detail Madam Redford is. The older woman has probably already noticed Chase acting amiss and grilled him for it. Especially since Darling was not there by Chase's side to make sure he's calm. He can't hide their secret marriage any better than her. Not when he refuses to take his wedding ring off. He's said it many times, expressing his guilt every time he has to take the band off to wash his hands or when he does the dishes, and it's been almost a year.

"How did this happen? What went through your head? Were you even thinking?" Daring says, touching his blonde head, feeling a headache pulsing. "You can't keep doing these reckless acts!"

"Why not? You guys let me get away for twenty-five years, I don't see why I can't continue doing it for another twenty-five years." Darling reasons. To hell with her batty eyes and innocent, it's hard cold truth time.

"That's not a valid reason!" Dexter groans.

"I can't believe you. I honestly can't believe you did this!" Daring says, stunned. "I can't believe you didn't tell us until now!"

"This is ridiculous!" Dexter agrees, throwing up his hands while Daring massaged his head.

"Shut up, I love him and I'm married aren't I?" Darling says. "And the marriage is a secret, yes, but he isn't. You should have heard of him, I tag him in my Instagram photos." Darling replies, a little tired of her brothers' freakouts.

"You mean your Insta account with just pictures of bikes? The one Dare and I have almost no interest in? We're not stalkers, Darling, we're not going to look through the list of people you've hung out with!" Dexter utters.

But Daring speaks up. "Hey, sis, have you realised that a majority of your man's Instagram page is of you?"

"Oh yeah, Chase's totally a nerd for doing that." Darling answers, smiling, saying her husband's name for the first time.

"Don't you think it's creepy?" Daring bites back, judge-y.

"Dare, you're stalking him already?" Dexter blanches but inches towards Daring's phone regardless. Dexter's talked about Chase Redford before but he honestly can't remember if he's ever seen the man's face.

Daring huffs while his eyes remained on his phone screen, "Well, sorry! Didn't know it was a crime to check up on my in-laws! We didn't even know the guy existed until ten minutes ago!"

"Actually, Dexter knows Chase." Darling argues, ratting her twin out. "He's the one who supported me to go after Chase."

"What the hell, Dex?" Daring turns sharply to Dexter.

Dexter only responses by shaking his head and making an 'X' with his arms. "What? No, I don't know him, I've only heard about him!"

"But you did tell me to chase after him!" Darling argues.

"Yeah, not marry him in secret!" Dexter argues back then looks at his twin. "Which I'm still mad about!"

"How long have you even known this guy?" Daring grills Darling on her husband.

"Eight years."

"What the fu – And you've never once thought you could maybe drop a hint?" Daring runs a hand through his blonde hair, trying to make sense of things. What else did the twins keep from him? He's just as shaken up as Dexter.

It takes a moment for the both of them to collect themselves before Dexter looks Darling in the eyes and asks, "Why didn't you tell us?"

Darling bites her lower lip while Daring just stares back at his sister, silently listening.

"Because marriage is a private thing," Darling reasons. "It's about me and Chase, we weren't comfortable telling everyone." Then she says under her breath, "Plus, Mother is a psycho."

"Wait, this is all about Mother?" Dexter gaps.

"Not entirely but kind of. I repeat: Mother is a psycho! I can't risk anything around her."

"I – " Dexter stutters then says, "You know what? I'm lost for words!" Massaging the space between his eyes, Dexter sighs. "Dare, help me out here."

"Um, I kind of agree with Darling. Mother is terrifying. I wouldn't want to risk anything. Why do you think I'm still living with the Beautys?"

"Jesus, and here I thought you two were the bravest people I know." Dexter sighs once again then looks at his twin. "Darling, I'm not saying drop the marriage bomb on Mother, that's a suicide mission. Mother will murder you. Maybe even your husband. I don't want a murder at my wedding."

"I know I should say something," Darling admits. "But I just don't want to. I don't want to be the first to suffer Mother's wrath about marriages or buying an appropriate family home or having grandkids."

"So I became the first to suffer her wrath?" Dexter blanches once again. He doesn't know whether to feel offended or not. It's true that his siblings have gotten more shit from their mother but that doesn't mean he wants it to be his turn now.

Darling flicks her wrist airily. "Oh, Dex, Mother loves you. You're her favourite now. She'll tone it down for you." She says this like she's had experience.

Dexter makes a face at this. "What? I don't want to be Mother's favourite again. That's too much pressure!"

"A little too late for that," Daring says, he sends the brunette a knowing look. "You are taking over the family business from Father."

"Look," Darling speaks, gesturing to her brothers. "This is clearly a game of hot potato because none of us want to be Mother's object of affection. There's a pattern to her 'love'. We've known, as children, Dex and I were Mother favourite. And then I went through that rebellious phrase and Dex became her favourite. I got sent away to boarding school for being a little shit, yadaa-yadaa-yadaa, I came back, I became her favourite, there was conflict, blah-blah-blah, and now you're her favourite again for getting married first."

Dexter points out, "Except that, I'm not the first to tie the knot, that's you!"

"Minor details that we can leave out!" Then she adds after a moment, "Oh, and let's not forget the part where Dare got jealous for a bit."

"Hey! I wasn't jealous." Daring frowns, pulling his blonde brows together.

"You clearly were." Dexter answers.

Daring touches his forehead, face now grimacing. "Yeah, okay, I kind of was. I'm so glad I outgrew that. I don't want to be Mother's favourite either."

"Are you sure you don't want to still give it a try?" Darling suggests playfully then gestures to her oldest brother. "Dare, you've still got a chance if you give Mother grandkids."

Daring pursues his lips together. "I haven't even accepted Rosabella's proposal."

"Wait, you haven't?" Darling mutters, disappointed. "How many years has that been going on?"

"You're distracting us from the main issue." Dexter says, bringing the conversation back to the main topic. "Dare and I aren't going to lighten Mother's burden by throwing grand weddings or having children. Darling, you got married and didn't tell us; your brothers, your own flesh and blood. What gives?"

"Well, it's like I said: marriage is a private thing." Darling repeats her explanation. "Weddings, on the other hand, are public celebrations. We'll get to it ... maybe in two years? ... Or more. Or after Dare accepts Rosabella's proposal and marries her. I'm thinking Spring D.I.Y. themed, you know how much Rosabella loves being eco-friendly and cruelty-free stuff –"

"Bap-bap-bap." Dexter waves the issue away again. "No more distractions."

"Okay, fine." Darling throws her hands up in the air, ready to speak the proper truth. "Chase and I did go back and forth for a long time about getting married in secret. Chase really wanted to be all nice and polite. He did want to have a wedding until I say 'Do you want to break the news to my psycho Mother because I'm not going to?' and then he just stared at me for the longest time before going 'I can't believe you've actually convinced me to this secret marriage thing with one single sentence' and I pretty much go, 'Hell yes!'. We bought the rings, found a marriage office, sign the document and now we're legally married."

"That doesn't sound the least bit romantic."

"Well, it was!" Darling argues. "Look, I know it sounds crazy. It's just – Chase and I are really happy as we are. Less than twenty-four hours ago, we were in Paris. Paris, France. People fantasise the hell out of that place. I wanna live up to that hype." She says and knows it's a rubbish explanation, but it is what it is. "Dex, I love that you're getting married to Raven, I love you both, but I'm afraid of telling Mother. It took practically forever for Mother to warm up to Raven. And she's known about Raven for nearly a decade! I couldn't wait that long! I already waited a whole year for Chase and that felt like torture! My heart hurt every day!" Darling reasons. "Mother can take it out on me all she wants but she will destroy Chase if she finds out. He is a big, tall, fragile baby and I want to keep him alive, thank you very much."

His Instagram says otherwise. Daring inputs, thinking back at the man's selfie.

Then Darling sighs under her breath and says, "I know this sucks to hear but the reason I didn't tell you is because I didn't want word getting out and reaching Mother. You two are the closest to her."

Daring's expression melts into one that says 'I sort of see the point' while Dexter takes this moment to massage the spaces between his eyes.

"I'm just saying, Darling." Dexter continues, trying to be the responsible one since Daring isn't. "Try to insert some clues about you and your husband. Drop a few hints. Mention a name."

"Uhh …" Darling hums, picking at the hem of her dress.

"You can't just spring the same thing onto our parents like you did with us." Dexter reasons.

Daring nods before an idea pops into his head. "What if we invite him to your wedding?" Daring asks Dexter.

"Do you want Chase murdered?" Darling gaps.

"What?" Dexter blinks. "Invite a total stranger to my wedding? I – I don't know? Maybe if Rae says 'yes', which she probably will since she knows just as much about the Chase drama as Maddie and I."

However, Darling makes a face at the mention of Dexter knowing just as much as Maddie.

"Or if Mother or Father likes him?" Daring adds.

"Don't you think that's too sudden?" Darling buts in.

"I mean, on one hand, I do want our family to like Chase since he's secretlytechnically part of the family now." Dexter says, sparing no gentleness to the fact because, still, what the hell? "But, on the other hand, I want my wedding to not go up in flames."

"Okay, Dex," Daring says slowly which is the codeword for 'chill'. "Maybe we can start things slow. Dip our toes in the pool a bit before canon-balling. Maybe," Daring says, suggesting something. "Maybe try introducing Chase to the family? That's a start! We have our family dinner tonight, right? Let's just invite him and see where things go."

"What?" Dexter panics.

"Tonight?" Darling panics too.

"As in, the night before my wedding?" Dexter continues.

Daring simply tosses a look at Dexter. He's kind of sick of Dexter constantly talking about his wedding. He can't wait to get it done and over with.

"Darling, it'll be fine." Daring encourages. "You're not going to be there alone. Dexter will be there. And so will I, which is a miracle. Our family dinners are the rare time I actually step into our old house willingly and the rare time Mother actually holds her tongue. It's perfect!"

"You just proposing this dinner idea because you want to meet Chase." Darling says, reading the blonde's mind.

Daring maintains a poker face then rolls his eyes. "Kinda. Yeah. As soon as possible so I can intimidate him a bit." Daring admits.

"He's older than you." Darling says. "And taller."

"Do I look like I care? I just want to look out for you since nobody told me about Chase for eight years. You guys are unbelievable siblings." Translation: You guys suck!

The blondes held each other's gaze in disagreement.

"So the dinner plan?" Dexter buts in.

Darling slumps her shoulders, not knowing how to face this whole scenario.

"Right, maybe we can get Chase to bring a nice housewarming gift?" Daring says, then a spark lit behind his blue eyes and he exclaims, "Bring alcohol! Get Mother drunk! Get her to accept him without realising!"

Darling's eyes suddenly sparkle at that mischevious idea. She does like a good spontaneous scheme.

"What? No! The day before my wedding?" Dexter is really fond in using that as a card.

"We need to get the deal sealed!" Darling exclaims.

"She's got a point." Daring says to Dexter's twitchy eye.

"I hate you both." Dexter sighs. "I can't believe you're ganging up on me before my wedding!"

"So help me, Dexterous, if you say mention your wedding one more time –" Daring doesn't even finish his words.

"I'm not going to have a parent hungover at my own wedding." Dexter sputters at his blonde siblings.

"You don't want a lot of things." Daring utters.

"Don't make me uninvite you from my wedding."

"I'm not afraid to crash your wedding." Daring says, though it sounds like a threat. "And you know I will do it if I have to, and God help me, I'll bring every animal from the Beautys' property with me if I had to."

"Please don't …"


"So there's been a change of plans." Darling says the moment she opens her front door, not even bothering to say 'hi'. There's no time for niceties.

Chase looks up from a book, which, Darling is sure he hasn't even bothered to try to read because the bookmark is still there and there's this look in his eyes that says he's nervous. Oh, there's no doubt about it, Chase told his mom.

"Why does it sound like you've murdered someone and want to skip town?" Chase asks, eyeing his wife's perfect clean dress. Good, no blood stains.

"I haven't murdered anyone but we might just get murdered." Darling says. "By my mother."

"What?"

"You're coming with me to my family dinner tonight." Darling says, straightforward.

Chase tosses the book aside, so unlike himself, and stands from the couch, his impossible tall figure looking small. "Hold on. No. I can't handle anyone else's parents. I can't even handle my own mom."

Darling stares accusingly at Chase. "What did you tell her?"

"I caved in and told my mom some stuff about you. Like how we actually met." Chase admits guilty.

"You told on me?" Darling gaps. "All I did was literally walk into a bar like I was a punchline to a joke! I didn't even drink! Chase, I want your mom to like me!"

"I know but I told her it was all my fault. It's all on me. I told her I thought you were a dude and that I dragged you out of the bar five seconds after and that I thought I almost killed you in that motorcycle race!" Chase rambles.

"What?"

"I mean, I didn't mention the second school thing since it was nothing, you only spent senior year at Ever After High while you spent a majority of your teenage education at Grimm's Institute so it wasn't anything important. But the first meeting though, that was important and I feel so responsible –"

"You could have also said online then at a bar then at work." Darling throws her hands up. How is she supposed to bring him to the Charming family dinner if he's super nervous? He'll spill this guts out wihin seconds and her mother will murder them both!

"Look, I know you're mad at me for mentioning how we met at an arguably sketchy bar but –"

"No, it's not that. It's not even the fact that we met at a bar. There's nothing wrong with meeting at bars. Lots of people meet at bars. It's not like I wouldn't have told your mom later. It's just that I walked into that bar at age seventeen because I thought it would be hilarious. It's my bad decision that I'm haunted by." Darling explains, the hem of her dress swishing as she paces. "I didn't tell your mom my age but it's clear that I'm younger than you. She can and will do the Math and find out I wasn't supposed to be there. She'll lose all respect for me!"

"Hey, people do a lot of crazy things at age seventeen." Chase tries to calm his wife down.

"The craziest thing you've done was colour your hair." Darling says, recalling the pictures from the album.

"Just my fringe," Chase says then admits, "Which is sort of weird but that doesn't excuse the fact that you're still mad at me."

"Chase," Darling says after inhaling deeply. "You don't have to feel guilty or feel like you need to confess everything. Yes, I did meet you at the bar but we left, not even five minutes of being there. We mostly hung out at work and then continued to spend time together after that, working some more. Literally, we spend all our time working. So I feel like that's where we connected and really met." Then Darling adds, "I'm not upset about the bar, I just think you could have told your mom about our love for motorcycles bringing us together. Was she angry about my potential underage drinking, though?"

"I feel like the secret marriage triumph over how we met."

"My brothers disagree. They're mad that they still haven't met you after I told them we met eight years ago." Darling sighs.

"Hang on, you told on me to your brothers? Is that the reason why I'm attending family dinner? You can't be mad at me telling my mom when you told your brothers." Chase puts his hands on his hips as he looks at his wife.

Darling sighs once more, "I didn't tell them, per se, they kind of figured it out." With that, Darling launches into a story of what went down during lunch with her brothers before stumbling back to their current problem.

"So how am I supposed to win over your mother's heart?" Chase asks.

"Remember what pina colada recipe?"

Chase's cornflower blue eyes glaze over. "Wait, what?"

Chapter Text

the sleepless elite


 chapter thirty-four



"Wait, how do you know I have a recipe book? You were literally occupied with my mom the entire time we were home." Chase raises a brow as he stares at Darling's face.

"It was when you were abroad for a year. I missed you." Darling admits shyly, feeling heat rushing to her face.

"Aww," Chase coos then realises something. "Wait, you broke in?"

"Sometimes," Darling says. "Most times I convinced Ace (with bagels) to let me hang out there."

Note to self, never leave Ace to house sit ever again. Chase tells himself then gives her a look because they've discussed this – years ago.

"It's no big deal, we live there together now." Darling reasons, brushing aside her husband's worries. They had bigger things to worry about.


Darling's tucked her rings into the pocket of her leather jacket while Chase has tucked his wedding ring into his jeans. Logically, it would be best to just leave the rings at home, but it felt criminal enough taking the rings off that the both of them couldn't think of parting away from the symbol of their matrimony.

When Chase and Darling pull up on the driveway of the Charming estate, Darling hops off the Red Knight with careful grace and takes off her helmet while Chase clams up and retrieves the bottle of pina colada from the small storage compartment.

"If I die tonight, I just want you to know that I love you." Chase says while staring at the big house with a gulp. He could feel his anxiety build up all over again, it was like he was with his mom all over again, only this time, there were two parents.

"You're not going to die." Darling says but bites her lower lip regardless.

Then she spots her two brothers hiding by the entrance windows, peeking behind curtains. It's like they were waiting to stake the Redfords out. Darling takes a deep breath, her hand reaches out to clasp Chase's, if they were going to do this, they were going to do it together. A small smile forms on her lips as she feels Chase give a small reassuring squeeze

"Let's do this." She says.

With that, the Redfords approached the front door, then –

"Chase,"

"Yeah?"

"Ring the doorbell."

Chase looks down at his occupied hands; one holding the bottle of alcohol and the other grasping Darling's small hand. "But that means letting go of your hand and I don't think I can do that. I need courage."

"I'm scared too."

"It's your house, Darling. Shouldn't you be the one to ring it?"

"I'm living with you now, remember? Technically, I've already moved out, Mother and Father just don't know that, yet." Darling says sheepishly.

Chase sighs, well this is another secret to keep? Maybe? Then he takes a deep breath and rings the bell.

A brief silence elapses over them before the sound of Daring and Dexter arguing in low mutters, some shoving and footsteps approach the door alerted them that Mr and Mrs Charming won't be their first obstacle.

"Sounds like my brothers." Darling sighs to herself. They're not very smooth. No wonder she's the secretive sibling and they're not.

When the door swings open, Daring greets the two with his widest smile and warning in his eyes. From the corner, Darling reads Dexter's face which says 'we made a bet to see who'd open the door first and I lost'.

Daring makes the first move to pull the 'I'm the intimidating older brother' move. And it would have worked ... if Chase wasn't older, taller and too mature to take the bait. Dexter only stands in the sidelines and hopes this interaction goes well.

"I know this may sound too straight-forward." Daring says in a low voice after shaking Chase's hand, and introducing himself and Dexter. "But, do you happen to have a picture of your marriage certificate?"

Even Dexter's ears perk up.

"Oh, no, it's not straight-forward at all, I get it. And, yes, I took a picture just in case anything happened to the real deal." Chase answers nonchalantly then takes out his phone with his free hand. The cautious side of him needed to make sure everything was okay.

Darling watches the whole display of how her brothers flock like they're dying animals from dehydration and Chase's phone is the saviour; the pool of water ready to quench and save their thirst.

Daring angles his head a little to the left and Dexter lifts his eyes, they both saw just enough on Chase's phone – dozen and dozens of pictures of beautiful shots; all aesthetic, all memorable, and all with bits of Darling in the background. At this point, the Charming brothers shared a look that asked themselves the question if whether Chase was totally in love with his wife or just a stalker psychopath.

"What language is this?" Dexter asks, squinting at the marriage certificate. "Icelandic?"

"It's Nordic. We got married while under the aurora skies." Chase replies then blushes. "Um, I proposed to her under similar circumstances so …"

Dexter turns to Daring. "She got married under such a romantic circumstance and my twin sense didn't pick up any of this."

"You need to stop talking about that." Daring utters then leans away from Chase's phone. Well … "Ah, so dinner?" Daring says to Chase after nodding at the certificate. It was the real deal. Their marriage was legitimised, and this man in front of him was his 'new' brother-in-law.

"Yeah." Chase nods and holds the gift in his hands a little higher.

...

Strangely enough, Daring starts warming up to Chase while Dexter starts getting more protective even though he was the one that encouraged his twin to chase after the very man he's frowning at.

"You're siding with him?" Dexter sputters.

"Yeah, well, Rosabella has taught me a few things about being kind."

"Dare, what?" Dexter whispers. He can't believe Daring is voicing that Chase isn't so bad when the blonde was ready to scare Chase out of the house twenty minutes ago.

"The cert is legit. He seems like a cool guy. And, I'm just saying, he has a great smile! Watch." Daring turns to Chase (who's in a conversation with Mr Charming. Mrs Charming is listening intensely, amazed by 'the out of blue boyfriend' and Darling is trying to back Chase up) and flashes his signature Charming smile. "Hey, Chase, that drink you brought was great!"

Chase responds back with an equally dazzling smile, "Thanks, I made it myself." With that, the man turns back to Mr Charming and politely continues the conversation they were having.

"See, Dex, he fits in fine with the family." Daring shrugs and goes back to his starter meal.

"But, Mother and Father doesn't know he's technically family now, do they?" Dexter stabs his meal.

"Not if you speak that low, shout it out to the world, why don't you?" Daring mutters then glances back at his parents actively interacting with Chase. "Even if they did, I don't think they would mind very much, dear brother. They seem to be enjoying his company very much."

...

After Chase had mentioned his last name, Mr and Mrs Charming's suspicions of Chase's interest in Darling only for her wealth depleted. The Redfords are well-known in the business world too, Madam Redford has worked long and hard for that. Needless to say, Chase Redford was welcomed with open arms.

Dinner was somewhat pleasant when the main course was served, between the Charming brothers occasionally discussing (bickering) about something while Chase and Darling continued talking to the older adults.

But when big conversations broke off, and Chase and Darling started having their own private conversations, everything they exchanged were all out of context to the Charming family. However, to anyone who bothered to listen knows that whatever the two have to say is years worth of inside jokes and moments shared. Just from watching the couple, it shows that Chase doesn't take any of Darling's bullshit but he also handles his responses with maturity and care.

"So, it goes like this," Chase says to Daring. He's storytelling now while picking up his fork and knife, and cutting Darling's steak without blinking an eye.

Even Darling doesn't react. She continues talking to Dexter, not minding Chase cutting up her food for her as if it's the most normal thing in the world. Both just continued on with their conversation with a respective Charming brother.

The Charming family, however, silently shares a look. It goes unnoticed by Chase and Darling. And once Chase was done, Darling started transferring her tomatoes onto Chase's plate, which he stops her by tapping his knife against hers, like they were duelling (but with cutlery).

"Darling, I'm not eating your tomatoes."

"But, I don't like tomatoes."

"I know." He says like this fact is engraved into his heart. Wow, their vows must have been so romantic.

"Then eat my tomatoes." Darling answers.

"You should eat your vegetables, you're an adult."

"Says the guy who just cut up my steak into bite-size pieces, you're babying me." Darling teases.

"It's not because I'm babying you." Chase explains like he knows his wife like the back of his hand. "It's because every time we eat steak, halfway through the meal, you'll turn to me and say 'Chase, I'm full, I can't finish this, can you eat the rest for me?' but I've seen you eat more than that so I know it's not true. In actuality, you're just tired of cutting up your steak so you give up in eating it."

Both Daring and Dexter exchanged glances like as if to say 'he's right' because the thing about being a brother is, you always end up being a human food disposal.

Darling's face melts into a soft one. "You do all that for me?"

"Yeah, I'd do anything for you." Chase responses, something the Charming's liked hearing.

"I appreciate you cutting my steak for me." Darling says.

"You're welcome." Chase answers.

"And I would appreciate it too if you ate my tomatoes."

"No."

"I thought you loved me." She teases further and the table does this weird pause of silence.

Chase stares at her for a moment, all squinty-eyed like 'I can't believe you've done this' then sighs in defeat. A triumph smile spreads on Darling's smile before she continues transferring her tomatoes on his plate.

"Sorry, what were you saying?" Chase says, turning back to his conversation with Daring as Darling starts eating the bite-sizes.

"Uh," Daring hums. Even the blonde man forgot. He was kind of distracted by how Chase and Darling had bickered like an old married couple. "... I was talking about orchids?"

"Oh, right!"

Then dessert is served.

"No, don't eat that. It has chestnuts." Darling says suddenly, now suddenly taking the role of the mature one in the relationship, as she slides the treat away from her husband.

"But it's desert." Chase answers. He feels like deserves a treat for this crazy, spontaneous dinner.

"You're allergic."

"I just want a taste."

"We've been through this. You're not having an allergic reaction at this family dinner." Darling reasons.

Mr and Mrs Charming exchange a reaction of 'who is this? What have they done to our real daughter?'

Even the brothers are impressed.

Wow, Dexter thinks, looking at Daring like he's attempting telepathy.

I know! Daring's face seems to say.

Anyone with eyes can see that Chase coddles Darling the same way Daring and Dexter does, except with more care.

Little by little, the Charmings relax.

From what they observe, Chase and Darling's relationship is not just about money. From what they gathered, Chase isn't a slacker, judging by how passionate he talks about his job and how he had brought a homemade gift to the dinner instead of buying something. Just from the conversations alone, it's crystal clear that Chase and Darling are best friends, but also very much in love.

The feeling was like Goldilocks and the three bears; just right.


Once dinner is over, Mrs and Mrs Charming excuse themselves to discuss a few matters (the sudden, not-exactly-bomb drop that their daughter is very much in love, something that happened without 'anyone' in the family knowing), it leaves their children and Chase free time to talk among themselves.

Which is exactly what the Charming brothers planned from the start – a conversation – except it's read more as 'interrogate' than 'having a casual discussion'.

Daring looks into Dexter's eyes, blue against blue, having a telepathic message sent. It's a signal that tells Dexter that Daring's going to talk to Darling now (read as 'I'm going to milk her for more info of the out of nowhere tall, dark and handsome husband') and this is unspoken tag team is commencing because, now, it's Dexter's turn to strike up a conversation with Chase.

Tipping his chin ever so slightly, Dexter claps his hands behind his back and goes, "So Chase, I heard you like bikes?"

(It's smackdown time, round two!)

Chase turns his head towards Dexter politely, "It's a common interest that brought Darling and I together."

"Chase," Darling says, touching the man's arm for a second. "I'm gonna go talk with Daring upstairs. Just find me if you need to."

"Okay."

Then Chase grins at Darling. And looking more closely, Dexter thinks the dark haired man definitely has a smile that fits the Charming family. Dexter also observes, apparently Chase has been looking at Darling (his wife, a title the brothers still found weird) for a majority of the night like the man's still in deep puppy love or whatever. But that romantic trait won't save his ass. The Charming brother are out for ... well ... not blood, but something close, like uh ... answers?

When Darling and Daring leaves to go upstairs, Dexter has the thought of trying to sound scarier than Daring (when the blonde had attempted to pull out the 'older brother' card) but Chase beats Dexter to the punch with a question.

"Didn't Darling tell you how we met? It was because of the motorcycles." Chase says which only gets Chase a quizzical look in return. "I introduced her to her job." Chase earns another strange look and offers more info to Dexter, "I travelled around the world with Darling for four, no, close to five years."

... What?

Okay, how can Dexter not know this? He's been fighting for Darling to keep her job for years and he doesn't know anything about it.

On the inside, Dexter smacks his forehead. It's not just Dare. Woweverybody in this family is horrible at keeping tabs at who's friends is who's.

Now that he's thinking of it, Dexter doesn't think he remembers any of Darling's boarding school friends. And legit for a whole year while at college, he assumes Darling was hanging out with the sleepless elite when she wasn'tA whole year. He can't believe he never bothered to ask. No wonder Darling managed to meet a guy and marry off in secret!

"So you met her before you two worked together?" Is all Dexter can manage to ask.

"Yeah," Chase says, he sounded almost nervous explaining how he and Darling first met. But then he starts telling stories and ticking his fingers, counting the years they've known each other.

Honestly, eight years of secrecy. That's basically just as long as Dexter's relationship with Raven or Daring's with Rosabella! Chase isn't a stranger, according to science, he's a forever person for keeping up a good relationship with Darling for so darn long!

"That's ... some story." Dexter says. "She ... never told me."

"I've noticed Darling likes to keep her secrets." Chase says, offering a sympathetic smile.

You can say that again. Dexter thinks and hopes this marriage secret is kept behind tightly sealed lips until his wedding is over.


"So, you really like this guy, huh?" Daring speaks about Chase while his sister looks around his old room, which is now aesthetically out of order, there's Dexter's Star Wars crap in here and Daring suspects Darling's the culprit.

Darling spins away from a bookshelf, the bottom of her dress swishing and a Nerf gun in her hands. "I'm married to him."

Daring only responses by letting out a deep laugh. He leans back against his royal blue bed. "Yeah … I should probably jump on that bandwagon too."

"What? Really?" Darling asks and basically tackles her brother in a hug like they were kids. If Daring wasn't already on his back, he'd be knocked down. "I'm so happy for you!"

Daring reaches out and tosses Darling's hair with a calloused hand. "So about that Spring D.I.Y. theme you were talking about."

"I knew you were listening!" She brightens then shoves his hand out of her hair and messes with his golden locks to get even.


And then the night ends as eventful as dinners usually end. Chase and Darling offer to leave first, excusing themselves with reasons of jet-lag. Mrs Charming actually hugs them both as they leave while Mr Charming gives Chase an approving nod and firm handshake.

The brothers manage to squeeze in a few extra minutes to talk before Mrs Charming just about frets with Dexter needing to get an early nights sleep.

"I'm impressed, Dex, Darling actually found someone who can keep up with her."

In response, Dexter only squints. "You're talking about Chase like he's replacing me."

"You need to chill out, you're getting married in less than twenty-four hours and your jealousy is really weird, man."

Dexter only rolls his eyes. He won't ever stop caring for his twin. Then he says, "I wonder what Darling's doing with that old Nerf gun." The brunette leans over the balcony to see his twin sister. He's lucky that his room is dark and overlooks the lawn, it always helped when Darling had asked him to cover for her back in high school when she had decided to sneak out.

"I've got a pretty clear idea." Daring answers, leaning too.

Two pair of blue eyes watch the couple. Then not even a second later, a 'click' echoes and Darling's laughter sounds the night.

"Ow, my neck! Ack! I know you did that, Darling!" Chase's voice accuses.

Darling lets out another playful laugh.

"Darling, that's going to bruise, your brother's wedding is tomorrow!" Chase argues as the brothers eavesdrop.

"Everything will be fine." Darling answers. She twirls to face him and playfully cocks the toy gun again.

Chase panics slightly. "Someone will notice! What will your parents think if they see it?"

"Hmm, probably that it's a hickey or something."

"That's not ANY better!"

"What if I bruise myself on the neck too?" Darling offers. "We can match!"

"No!" Chase snatches the Nerf gun out of her hands. Like hell he'd let her hurt herself.

He makes his wife laugh one more time.


"I feel nervous about tomorrow." Chase says while digging out his keys to Red Knight. He's already slipped his wedding band back on his fourth finger and so has Darling.

"Why? Is it because you have to dance at Dex's wedding?" Darling guesses, putting on her helmet.

"No. But now that you're reminding me how bad of a dancer I am, I'm worried about that too." Chase exasperates, turning on the engine and then mounting his motorcycle. "It's just – I didn't intend to go to your brother's wedding. It was just supposed to be you. I was supposed to visit my mom or see friends. I feel like I'm crashing the wedding by showing up uninvited. We were supposed to keep us low-key because we were afraid your mother would murder us."

Darling sits herself behind Chase on the bike. "First of all, relax, okay? It'll all be fine. Secondly, you didn't show up uninvited. We offered. We manage to squeeze in an extra chair for you at the family table and Daring said he'll lend you one of his ties, the one with the Charming family colour and insignia. Everything's settled and you'll fit right in." Darling pats Chase on the shoulders and smooths out his stress. "Thirdly, yes, we're supposed to keep us low-key but everyone at the wedding is a family or friend, no one's going to start drama if they find out we got married in secret. Trust me when I say: you're not alone in feeling this way, Raven and Rosabella will be there, you can bond with them."

She plants a kiss on the place she shot him just for reassurance (and because his helmet was blocking his face). Oh, Chase was right, it will bruise.

"Hmm," Chase hums that something sparkles behind his eyes as he turns to her. "Hey, let's go somewhere."

"Oooh, spontaneous!" Darling's own face lit up with excitement as she put on her helmet. "Where?"

"I'm not going to tell you, just know that I'm taking you on an adventure."

Chapter Text

the sleepless elite


chapter thirty-five



I know that you're in town,
Why won't you come around to the spot that we met?

– Carly Rae JepsenYour Type


"You took us back to the bar we met?" Darling gaps at the Rabbit Hole sign flashing above her pretty blonde head.

"I told you, I feel like we didn't start off on the right foot." Chase explains as he cuts off the engine then slips off his red helmet.

"So you want a do-over?" Darling can't help but let out a laugh. She slips off her own blue helmet and hands it to Chase who stores it away. "You're eight years late on that, Chase."

Chase only rolls his eyes and leads her into the bar. "Come on."

"I can't believe you." Darling snorts as she follows and steps in.

Warm air immediately hits her in the face. Her light blue eyes look around the place. Yup, same old bar. She really needs to speak to Bunny about this place. Despite the bar being full and lively with people, Darling thinks Mr Blanc seriously needs to makeover the place. The music selection is good though, Don't Delete the Kisses by Wolf Alice is really setting the mood.

Then she looks over at Chase. "You're such a dork."

"I'm your dork." He answers.

"Not at this very moment, you said you wanted a do-over, remember?" Darling says and reads the menu behind the counter. She actually wants to order something since she didn't get to the last time.

"You're right." Chase says, then pretends to lean against the counter, all smooth. "Hi. Can I buy you a drink?"

Darling flashes her left hand then wiggles her fingers playfully. "Sorry, buddy, I'm married."

"I'm trying to be romantic." Chase whines.

"I liked that our relationship started with a solid friendship. It got a little messy after but it turned out well." Darling admits as they take a seat at the very spot where it all began eight years ago. "Remember when you thought I was hitting on you when I first got here?" Darling teases.

"Hey, I thought you were a dude. A really cool dude who knew his stuff about bikes."

"Well I definitely knew more about bikes than you did, and I wasn't even working around them."

Chase opens his mouth, about to respond, but an elder man approaches them from behind the bar. His kind eyes light up as he says, "Well, I'll be damned! If it isn't little Miss Darling Charming! My, you sure have grown up since the last time I saw you!"

Darling grins back. "Hey, Mr Blanc, it's great to see you again. I'm glad to see that the old bar is still up and running."

"Well, yes, business as usual, it's always good to have our regular customers return from time to time. You must be back for your brother's wedding. Bunny and Alistair just got in the other day, I'm sure they'll be thrilled to see you again."

Darling talks while Chase hangs back. She says, "Of course, the old gang is getting back together for Dex's wedding."

"That's great!" Mr Blanc replies, still smiling. "Well, can I get you or your friend anything?"

Darling places her chin in her hand and orders with ease, "Two beers would be great."

"Coming right up." With that, the man disappears behind the counter.

Darling hums in satisfaction then turns to Chase, who's been oddly quiet for a while. She asks him, "What's up? Did you not want a beer?"

"I didn't know you were familiar with the bartender." Chase says.

Darling shrugs, "Mr Blanc is actually the owner. And he's the father of a friend from high school so ..."

Something clicks in Chase's mind. High school friend's dad. Bar owner. Hold on. He thinks. "You've been to this bar many times, haven't you? Like, before we even met."

"Yeah. The sleepless elite used to hang out here sometimes." Darling nods. "Which was why I was super chill about meeting up with you the first time! I knew at the time, if you – a stranger – did anything sketchy to me, I could just get Mr Blanc and he would have kicked you out."

"You were underaged." Chase presses then crosses his arms in defence.

"Minor details, I charmed my way through." Darling answers with a wave of her hand. But when she sees Chase's stubborn expression, she adds, "Just like how I did with you."

"What? Charm me?"

"Yeah, you know I totally did when we met."

Chase uncrosses his arms then let out a sigh, "Eight years and I still have so much to learn about you."

Darling reaches out and places her hand on his, rings matching and reflecting against the dim lights. "Well, you have eight years and more to keep on learning."


Staring at himself in the reflection, Chase Redford had to admit, he looked good in blue, even if it wasn't a colour he'd wear. He was more of a red kind of guy, but as a member of the Charming family table today, he was obligated to match the family dress code – royal blue with touches of gold and silver.

"You look great," Darling says, coming around from behind him in her bridesmaid dress.

Chase turns away from the mirror to face Darling and finds himself mildly speechless.

"What?" Darling blinks then tucks her silver-ish blonde hair behind her ear. Now she's feeling shy. "Is something on my face? Besides make-up?"

"No. No, it's just …" Chase shook his head slowly. "You look amazing, Darling." And he meant every word of it.

Chase had seen Darling in a dress yesterday, and he already thought she was beautiful, but what she was wearing now ... she just looked stunningly gorgeous. Plus, Chase wanted to make up for lost times. He didn't get to tell her how pretty she looked the first time they met, so he's gonna praise her now.

Darling feels the heat rush to her face. "You're a dork." She says almost defensively, then she adds, "But, thanks. You don't look so bad yourself. Though, you're missing something." She holds out Daring's family tie for Chase to see. "Here, I did it up for you."

"You did?" Chase raises a dark brow. "I'm impressed that you know how to tie a tie."

Darling lightly punches his arm. "I'll have you know –" She says in a joking yet serious voice as she loops the tie around Chase's neck. "– I spent every morning tying my own tie for school when I was at Grimm's." Darling pulls away and watches Chase's reach to fix it before his hands drop away from his collar. She pauses, tiny hands on his chest.

"What?" He asks.

"You really look like one of us now." She says like she's adopting him.

Chase attempts a smile, but it's all nervous.

"Well, minus the hair." Darling jokes further.

Chase looks back at the mirror and stares at the emblem, it was becoming more and more real every second. He studies the Charming family crest. It's true, he's one of them now. He was part of a family. Two families, actually. He's never felt more reassured.

"I feel like one." He says and feels Darling's arms wrap themselves around his waist. She hugs him like she would never want to lose him.

"Welcome to the family, Chase."


'end'

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.

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TBC in part three of 99 cent dreams