Jane was unimpressed.
He could tell from the way she crossed her arms, raised her eyebrow, and let out a sigh – all the while refusing to simply do what was polite on a long train ride like this and look out the window or something.
“I’m really very busy,” Will repeated himself, looking back down quickly at his book.
“Bran will be there, too,” she said and without meaning to his body tensed, giving him away. Jane let out another sigh, got up from her bench seat, maneuvered her way around all of the various bags and packages in their compartment, and sat down next to him.
“You can’t avoid us all of the time, Will,” she whispered. “I thought it could be like it used to,” her voice became wistful, “like those holidays when we were children. When we would all spend so much time together …,” her face started to grow tight and confused, losing its happiness. “And we would…,” she started to pull at the edge of her bronze necklace in agitation, twisting it around her neck, “…we would….,” she tried again.
“I’ll come,” Will said, abruptly shutting his book.
Jane’s face cleared, breaking out into a happy smile like the sun from behind clouds and she settled into the seat, looping an arm around his. Will had always hated seeing her upset, hated disappointing her.
“At least after today you’ll be prepared for the party. I can’t believe you didn’t have any of your Christmas shopping done, Will,” she chided. “And what were you planning to do about your family? You have simply loads of relatives we had to buy for today,” she sighed stretching her legs tiredly.
“What would I do without you to mother me?” Will asked only half joking. When he had first met her it had been slightly startling to witness this nurturing habit of hers extended to Merriman, a man he respected and knew to be the First of the Old Ones, but now it was comforting.
“If I didn’t nag constantly, I’d never get a hold of you, Will,” she leaned more heavily against him and her weight against his arm corresponded with the feeling inside him at her words. He knew it was true. He didn’t want to, but he avoided the Drews (and Bran) as much as he could. Making up any excuse he could think of most of the time. Jane was the only one who was persistent enough to constantly call, constantly check in on him to make sure he was alright.
It was difficult for him though, to see them…but have it not truly be them. Not wholly so. Not people he could share with, share everything with. Like they used to be.
But then Jane tilted her head up to look at him. “It will all be good this year,” she promised. “You’ll see. Mom and Dad went off on their own vacation but we’ve rented The Grey House anyway - it will be just like when we were kids.”
“Hopefully not that exciting,” he said trying to smile back at her around the tight, brittle feeling inside him.
“No,” she said, meeting his eyes seriously and touching the pendant of the necklace under her blouse, “it will.”
“Jane’s been dreaming,” Barney told him as he twirled a piece of cheese on a toothpick around absentmindedly.
“Hmm?” he responded not really paying attention, his mind across the room where Simon and Bran were talking by the fireplace.
“Jane,” Barney repeated, and when he glanced over he was smirking at him as if he had known where his mind had been; Will fought down a blush. “She’s been dreaming again. Well,” his face became considerate, “weirder dreams than the rest of us, that is. And that’s setting a pretty high bar.”
Will became instantly alert, sitting up straighter. “What? Why didn’t you tell me? What has she – what have you all been dreaming?” he asked barely daring to hope either way.
Barney popped the cheese in his mouth making him wait while he chewed and swallowed. “You’re away so much, Will,” he said, his voice somehow more sad then chiding. “Whenever we see you or try to get in touch with you it’s not usually our first thought to bring up the families habit of odd dreams.”
“Your whole family then?” he asked feeling something inside him plummet.
Will had dreams too, after all. The normal sort – well, nightmares really.
You know, of falling. Getting lost. Freezing to death. The one where he is pulled in two directions through time at once and stuck somewhere in between.
One where on his eleventh birthday his family never woke up from that deep sleep.
One where on that day, high on a hill, Old Ones and children (including an Old One who was still a child, really) gathered, fought with all they had…..and the Light still didn’t win anyway.
Or that one where he feels like one day he is going to outlive everyone without ever having become close to anyone at all.
….except that last one is actually happening.
Will hated what had been done. This stealing of memories from his friends. But large parts of his hate for the action were highly self-centered in nature. In one fell-swoop that action had taken away any chance he had had with having any true closeness with the only people other than the Old Ones (who were all gone from this world now, except him) that might ever understand him.
Might ever love him.
“Well,” the other man conceded and Will came back to the conversation with a sharp shake of his head, “no. Just us three kids.” His eyes followed the path Will’s had taken earlier. “And Bran.”
He breathed in sharply and tried not to show any other reaction because Barney eyes had darted back and he was now watching him intently. He had to be careful here, he always had to be careful with the Drews – they could read him alarmingly well. Between Simon’s logic, Jane’s empathy, and Barney’s perception…
…and Bran, well, he was never quite himself (had always only been fully himself) around Bran.
“What has Jane been dreaming about?” Will asked, trying to derail any questions in his direction. “What’s in her dreams that’s so much weirder than the norm.”
“A lady,” Barney said simply, looking away and intently doodling invisible signs on his jeans with his toothpick.
“A lady?” Will asked. “What’s so-“
“No, not a lady” Jane interrupted as she walked in with another tray of snacks – snickerdoodle cookies this time. Bran came over instantly to help her with it and she smiled at him in thanks and the other man returned it, when their gaze broke and Bran turned his head slightly noticing Will’s staring he didn’t look away and Will fought not to be lost in those pale eyes, fought the double vision he always got of a crown atop that head of almost luminescent blonde hair. He quickly turned his attention back to Jane as she glared slightly at her brothers who had been more interested in the cookies themselves then assisting her, before huffing and continuing with particular emphasis, “The Lady.”
Jane’s hand reached up to her neck touching her necklace again, as she had earlier, like a talisman, his eyes followed the movement, noting that it was outside of her shirt this time and widening in surprise when he realized what it really was. The rose ring. The Lady’s rose ring.
And Jane’s chain was bronze.
There was actually bronze all throughout her apartment he had noted last time he was there without truly realizing it: doorknob, lighting fixtures, coat rack, etc. And he had known for years now that if you ever wanted to buy Jane any sort of jewelry as a gift you didn’t go with gold, silver, or anything typical like that – well, not if you wanted her to ever actually wear it. No, Jane always wore bronze.
Bronze carried long. The bit of old prophesy reverberated in his head.
And the others, the others were the same way.
He had almost dropped the phone the first time Simon had casually mentioned in conversation that he had been told by his doctor he needed to relax and so he had taken up ironworking as a hobby.
And there was a reason he didn’t go to any of Barney’s art shows after the first time.
It cut too close. Each painting was like a piece of time perfectly preserved. A skeletal horse whose eye sockets still seemed to stare. Rolling hills in so many shades of green it hurt.
A tree. A tree with a single silver flower falling slowly to the ground.
He didn’t know whether he wanted to buy them all and simply spend his days staring at them or hide from them.
He ended up doing the latter. Well, he basically hid from people in general.
Meriman had said that day he left (too tired to stay in this world, Will now understands), that everything changed that it was purely left to being man’s world now. And it was; there was no longer any place for Old Ones. He didn’t fit here. Branded different, like the very physical symbol on the inside of his arm. The only one of his kind left on Earth.
But the pink stone shone, a clear obvious beacon – a sign to him from one of his own kind to pay attention. And from the Lady who had always stood slightly away from them all, somehow above Light and Dark. Purely High Magic.
The Lady, who had always had a distinct fondness for Jane. (Much more than any of the rest of them, really. Even other Old Ones.)
So, Will paid attention.
“What did she say?” he asked swallowing and raising his eyes to meet hers. Jane didn’t seem surprised that he was taking this seriously. She did not talk as if it was a joke or if she only half believed this vision that she received during her sleep. Jane spoke with utter surety of one that trusted what she was saying and did not doubt that anyone in the room would doubt her either.
“She wanted there to be a choice involved. She said there always should have been. That just because we were children that shouldn’t have been taken from us,” her eyes were intent and he could feel everyone else in the room looking at him too. “She told me,” Jane continued running her thumb back and forth over the ring, “that we made the choice to fight for the Light. That we fought just as much as adults and just because it was kinder for John to live without the memories, it was his choice to have her make the decision for him. He requested it. We were never given that choice. They were stolen from us,” her hand made a fist around the ring.
Simon stepped forward, putting a comforting hand on his sister’s shoulder and Jane smiled up at him, taking a deep breath and calming herself before continuing.
“But we are all adults now and we want to choose. But not without you, Will,” Jane said. “You’re one of us – a part of this - no matter how much you try to pull away and we know this decision effects you too.”
“Effects you most of all, doesn’t it?” Simon asked watching him, his glasses glinting slightly from the firelight.
Will was stunned. He wasn’t – How could they- But, Merriman had said- Was this even happening?
“You there, Will?” Bran asked, with a hand on his shoulder. And this time he couldn’t do anything but stare and stare and stare.
“I think you broke him, Jenny-o,” Bran said lightly, sitting on the arm of the sofa next to him – Will moved to staring at his thigh, encased in corduroy. His eyes traced the grooves as his mind spun.
Jenny sighed and tried to find a seat as well. Simon ended up shoving her food around until it was piled in a practical manner off to one side. She sat on the end of the coffee table in front of him while Simon sat on the floor nearer the fire place.
“You’re not happy, Will,” Bran says bluntly pulling his eyes back up to his face. “Tell us. Will this make you happy?”
And Will wanted to look away again, take the easy way out and avoid this man’s gaze, avoid this question (and the question lurking between them), like he had been doing for years now.
“You don’t need to do anything. I could be happy other ways,” he said instead, hoping the others didn’t hear the helplessness, the long years of loneliness (both past and the heavy pressure of the future), in his voice.
“Could you, really?” Jane asked softly, in such contrast to the Pendragon that he had to look her way. Her hair was pulled back as it always was and as she leaned with her arms propped on her knees, the ring around her neck swung foreword hypnotically. “I don’t distinctly have a memory of you happy Will. But you were once, weren’t you? There was a time when we were always in danger but never alone in our trouble. When we were younger. When we all remembered together.”
She reached around and unclasped her necklace, she let it slide off the chain into her hand.
“We could be again,” Jane said and the others seemed to instinctively pull in tighter.
“Do you all want this?” he asked, whispering. It felt bad. Like he was asking for something and he shouldn’t be. He was an Old One, it was his job to fight for the Light…..but if he had the choice….if they had the choice…….
“We don’t want holes everywhere,” Barney spoke, sliding foreword on the couch, so that he was closer to Will - so that he was closer to the ring. “Bits and parts that don’t connect to anything, then are gone the next second. Things that feel more frustrating than real. I don’t want to always confuse every single dream I have with what might have happened,” he stated firmly.
“I want my mind back,” Simon said crossing his long legs and leaning an elbow on the coffee table next to Jane. “I feel incomplete. Like everything I do lacks context. Or has context that I don’t really understand,” he ran a hand through his hair and looked over at his brother and smiled wanly. “You’re right, it is frustrating.”
His brother kicked him playfully, “Yes, because I just love lying about these sorts of things,” Barney said sarcastically.
Will craned his neck up to look at Bran with equal parts trepidation and anticipation. Bran was already gazing down at him, he brushed some of his plain brown hair away from his temple and Will froze at the touch.
“There are things that I feel, that I don’t understand, Will,” he said, plainly. “I’d like to.”
The air hummed with power, and Will heard distant familiar music. He turned back towards Jane who didn’t really seem like Jane anymore, she held herself differently: back straight, head tilted up, a slight shaking in her limbs - graceful, powerful, regal.
“Five will return,” she quoted the prophesy in a voice not her own, deep and resonating.
“But all will have choice,” she said, hard and unrelenting.
Everything went quiet.
Then everything went dark.
Will had had so many bizarre experiences so far in his life, but the things that feel the most concrete to him, the things his mind always seems to go back to, were those that happened when he was still a child.
Before he realized his destiny as and Old One. Back when being the seventh son of a seventh son was just an odd quirk - something strangers would raise their eyebrows about: mildly impressed, fascinated, and somehow slightly condescending as well.
But nothing more.
Back when his family, their animals, and the village were central to his life.
This dream start likes that.
He is tending the rabbits and they are perfectly calm. Well, some stay to the other side of the pen when he puts the food in, but that’s just how they are – some are more timid than others and that is nothing out of the ordinary.
As he finishes his chores and moves to go inside Will hears a noise. Curious, he turns his head and sees something in the corner of his eye. He follows the shifting light, noise, feeling, up the hill and into the forest.
The forest is suddenly much thicker than when he was a boy.
And he is suddenly not a boy any longer either.
Will continues walking anyway following, following, following. He has a slight inkling, a niggling deep in his brain that this is important. Horribly so. Something he must do.
Whatever was luring him abruptly leaves the same instant the trees open onto a clearing. And the same moment he stumbles into it four other people do too. Three men and one woman. His eyes immediately pull towards the man to his right who seems to be effervescent – pale skin and very blonde hair glowing in the moonlight. The man is staring at him as well, he takes a step towards him.
“I know you, don’t I?” he asks, tentative and curious, holding out a hand.
“I think so,” Will replies, taking his hand and studying it intently before looking back into tawny eyes. “I’d like to.”
“We were supposed to do something weren’t we?” the woman asks everyone in a worried tone and he looks over at her keeping his hand clasped with that of the owl-eyed boy’s.
“Yes,” the man with glasses nods, seriously.
“That was helpful,” the youngest of them notes with a snort and the man with glasses frowns at him.
“There was something though,” the woman says. “Something,” her hand goes to her neck, an automatic motion, and as soon as she touches a ring there her eyes go wide and she sucks in her breath. She holds it for a long moment before she lets it out in a slow, controlled manner.
“Oh,” she says, swallowing and closing her eyes before opening them again and looking over at him. She smiles then, smiles in a way he can’t think of in any other way but sad. “Oh,” she repeats simply.
She reaches around and unclasps her necklace – and Will almost feels like he has seen this happen before.
She walks towards him and he knows already what he has to do. He puts out his hand (the one that doesn’t have fingers intertwined with pale companions) and watches as the ring with the pink stone slides down the bronze chain (just as it has before – the thought slides through his brain) and lands on his palm.
The memories return to him without any sense of surprise, like well recognized companions turning up in a familiar place. (They weren’t gone long enough for him to miss them, but he never wished for their departure either.)
What he did not quite expect was the way Bran tensed beside him – at least he hadn’t expected it just yet. But apparently the ring worked through the contact they shared. Jane could see the knowledge just in the different way they held themselves and moved on to her brothers.
Flushing, Will moved to pull his hand away. The man had enough to deal with right now. The last thing the Pendragon needed….
….The hand sharply tightened around his. Will looked up startled. There was something familiar in his gaze. The same thing that always pulled at Will. Even when he didn’t even have the faintest idea of who the man was apparently.
But Will did know who he was. But more importantly, now Bran knew who Will was – or what he was. And he still looked at him that way. Still held that heat in his gaze.
“Let’s go back, Jenny-o,” Bran said a without taking his eyes off Will, a slow smile moving across his face.
“I think that sounds marvelous,” Jane said, popping back next to Bran with a laugh. And as if waiting for her prompting, they are automatically back in the Grey House.
It was not all rainbows and kittens when they got home.
There were questions. About the past. About Old Ones and High Magic. About all sorts of things.
But through it all there was hot chocolate (laughingly demanded and made as soon as they returned), a plate of cookies, a warm fire, and friends (friends who felt like his friends again). Friends who had loved him and wanted him happy this whole time. Friends who were so overly delighted now with the fact that he could be open and truthful with them, that the heaviness of the things that happened in the past didn’t bother them. They had already felt it, already dealt with the emotions of it in a million little ways, over the years, anyway. Now there were reasons, now they actually had a close to that horrible/wonderful adventure they had been a part of.
They were able to feel complete, feel whole in their minds for the first time since they were children.
Eventually, late into the night, the Drews made their way upstairs. Acting even rowdier than they had when they were children – laughing, talking over each other, and purposefully bumping into each other the entire way up.
Just so bloody happy.
As the sound of their footsteps faded Will no longer had anything at all to distract himself. Honestly he had thought about something similar to this more than once (not just the Drews and Bran remembering but this), but he never thought it would actually happen (would never have allowed anything to happen without Bran having all the knowledge he could – without knowing full well what he was getting into in a relationship with him, knowing what Will was.).
But now, Bran was sitting very close on the couch, his body heat making Will almost uncomfortably warm in conjunction with the now low burning coals.
Bran leaned even closer and Will automatically leaned back, but the albino man just followed his movements, his eyes intent. He was almost on top of Will when he picked up his right arm and lightly touched the place where the Sign of the Light had branded him. Will shivered.
“I understand this,” he said, his voice husky. “I don’t want you for this.” His other hand brushed across Will’s forehead, “I just want you.”
There had been very few things in Will’s life that he had been allowed simply because he wanted it. He grew up in a large farm household with many mouths to feed and at eleven had been told of a destiny, a higher purpose he had of service to the Light.
But ever since Will had seen Bran….Will wanted.
But there were always things in the way: sickness, destiny, gender, time, doom. When they finally won and Light triumphed, they took away his friends’ (the only real friends he had ever had) knowledge of him. And how could anyone of them knowingly go into any sort of relationship (let alone the one he longed for with the Pendragon) when they didn’t have an idea what an Old One was? How could he consent to that when he knew what it would mean in a few years - but they didn’t?
But now they did. Now Bran had a real choice and he had chosen Will.
And for once in his life, Will was getting exactly what he wanted.