“Mac, I need you to promise me something,” she whispered urgently.
“Anything,” I said, walking out to greet the still black waters in my mind. They didn’t try to rush up and drown me this time. The surface was serene, placid, inviting, no hint of an undertow.
“If I don’t make it out of here—”
“If I don’t,” she repeated, “I need you to do something for me. Promise me you’ll do it. Promise me you’ll accomplish it no matter what. Say it.”
“I promise,” I said. But whatever she wanted, she could do herself, because she was getting out of here. I was going to see to it.
“The Silver I came through that brought me home…” She told me where it was and how to find it. “I need you to go back through it for me.”
“For what?” I backed away from my lake for a moment, giving her my full attention.
“I need you to rescue Shazam.”
My brain stuttered and I just lay there a few moments, opening my mouth, reconsidering and closing it. I’d thought we were having a fairly sane conversation. She’d been composed, intelligent, rational. Showing more humor than I’d ever seen from Jada. Now we were back to the stuffed animal she nearly died trying to save from the fire.
“He’ll wait for me forever,” she said in an anguished whisper. “He’ll wait and wait and he’ll believe that I’ll come. I can’t stand the thought of him being disappointed, over and over again.”
I didn’t say anything. Because I knew that was what she had done. Waited for someone to come rescue her. And no one had.
“Every day, he’ll just keep sitting there. Thinking it’s going to be that day. The happy one.”
She started to weep then, and it set off another flood of my own tears. The happy one, she’d said. How many years had it taken for her to stop believing? To stop hoping for the happy day?
“He’s so emotional,” she whispered. “And he gets so depressed and he gives up. He was alone for so long. I promised him he’d never be alone again.”
He was? Or she had been?
“And I know he’s going to be hungry,” she fretted. “He gets so hungry.”
Oh, God, I thought, she must have starved in the Silvers, with her enormous requirements for food. And she’d passed that trait off, too, to an imaginary friend.
“Do you promise me you’ll go back and save him if I don’t get out?”
“The fish,” I said woodenly. “You were feeding the stuffed animal fish.”
“You might not be able to find him at first. He hides in other dimensions. You’ll have to talk to the air and tell him his Yi-yi sent you and it’s okay to come out. It may take a while before he believes it’s safe. Whatever you do, don’t let him lick you or try to eat you.”
“Dani,” I said brokenly. She wanted me to go through the Silvers and talk to the air.
“I knew the fish were a bad idea,” she said with some embarrassment.
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know what to say.
“I’m not crazy, Mac. Shazam is real,” she said.
I blinked. What did she mean? What was she saying? I’d seen “Shazam.” He was a gutted stuffed animal.
She said tightly, “I left him.”
“The stuffed animal?”
“No,” she said irritably, “that was different. I couldn’t sleep. So I pretended it was him to help me sleep while I figured out what to do. But I knew I was pretending. Then when the abbey caught fire, I felt like it was happening all over again. It was that day again, the day I really lost him. It triggered me. I went a little nuts.”
I turned my head as far to the left as I could. “Shazam is real? Really, truly real?” I said.
“He’s a cranky, furry koala bear/cat thing. I found him my first year Silverside.”
I opened my mouth, closed it. Considered what she’d just said, weighing it for clarity and conviction. Was she telling the truth? Or was she so fractured she was now convincing herself, since Ryodan had gutted her delusion, that she’d left it behind? “A koala bear/cat thing that talks and hides in the air?” I finally said.
“Mac, stop thinking so much. It’s probably why it wants to work on your brain. You have all that internal monologue going on all the time.”
I bristled. “Don’t be a bitch.” I knew why I thought so hard about everything; all my life I’d had to sift through two complete beings inside me without ever knowing the other one was there: fifty thousand years of the Unseelie king’s memories bouncing around in my subconscious, recurring nightmares of icy places, fragments of songs, desires that hadn’t made any sense. I’d harbored emotions I’d never been able to pinpoint to any event in my life. Everything was suspicious to me—because half of it wasn’t mine. And I’d done a damn fine job navigating what was mine and what wasn’t.
She said again, “He’s real. You have to believe me. That’s part of the promise you’re making me.”
“You weren’t alone the whole time?” I longed to believe that. I hated the thought that she’d spent five and a half years battling enemies all by herself.
“No. Well, except for when he vanishes. And he’s amazing in a fight. Well, as long he stays focused and doesn’t have one of his pessimistic meltdowns. He hates being alone. And he’s alone again.” She added softly, “He loves me. He never said it but I know. It’s what he means when he says he sees me. And I can’t let him down. I can’t fail him. You have to tell him you see him, okay? Just keep telling the air that you see him. He’ll come out. And if I don’t make it, Mac, you have to love him. Promise me you’ll take care of him.”
I tried to wrap my brain around what she was telling me. I wanted to believe it was true, that she wasn’t broken and she wasn’t crazy. That she’d actually lost someone and it had been killing her inside. That in fact it had devastated her so deeply, she’d pretended he was a stuffed animal. She had feelings, deep ones. A sudden happiness filled me. Whether or not Shazam was real, Dani felt loved—and loved in return.
“There’s nothing wrong with your heart, honey,” I said softly.
“It’s broken,” she whispered. “I can’t go forward with Shazam behind me. I don’t know how.”