Midsummer, one year after the events of Silver on the Tree
"I'm sure they'll be fine," Aunt Jen said soothingly. She was bustling around the long farmhouse kitchen, preparing some tea for Owen Davies who had just dropped by. "It's just one night, and they're good boys."
From his position halfway down the stairs, Will could smell something baking in the large black oven at the far end of the room. Hopefully it would be for supper tonight. Aunt Jen was a fantastic cook, but right now he was far more interested in the conversation going on in the kitchen.
"You don't think they'll get up to any mischief?" Mr Davies said, his face filled with his customary worried expression. "Bran's a good boy but…"
Aunt Jen shook her head. "The worst that can happen is that they stay up a little late and sleep in the next morning. And if I know those boys, they'll most likely exhaust themselves running all over the hills all day and will fall asleep the minute they've had their supper."
"Well…" Mr Davies said, "I suppose that it's all right, then." He still looked doubtful even though he'd agreed.
Will let out a breath that he hadn't realised he was holding and continued down the stairs. He'd been so excited when Aunt Jen had suggested that he stay at Bran's home while Mr Davies made an overnight trip to Abergavenny for a family funeral. Now it looked as if it would really happen.
"You worry too much, Owen Davies." Aunt Jen said as she handed him a cup of tea. They both looked up at Will, as he reached the bottom of the stairs.
"Ah, there you are, bachgen. Owen was just saying that you'd be able to stay with Bran tomorrow."
"That's smashing! Thank you, Mr Davies," Will said.
Mr Davies nodded in acknowledgement. "I'm afraid we've only got the one bed. You won't be very comfortable," he said, a frown creasing his brow.
"Don't worry," Will said cheerfully. "I'll take a spare pillow and we'll sleep top to tail. I do that with my brother James, whenever we have visitors. Luckily Bran is a lot skinnier."
* * *
“I don’t know what sort of mischief my father thought we’d get into. We’re hardly about to bounce on the beds.” Bran laughed, there was a cynical edge in his voice. “And it isn’t as if you were a girl.” Will could just about make out his face at the other end of the bed through the gloom and he thought that Bran had looked straight at him with those words. It felt as if Bran was testing his reaction, but Will wasn’t quite sure why.
Silence fell in the small bare room as Will didn’t reply. That was always the safest action when Bran was in a mood like this. Will lay still in the narrow bed with his toes touching the edge of Bran's pillow and stared up at the unfamiliar ceiling. In the sliver of moonlight coming through the curtains, he could see a crack that was almost the shape of a W. If he searched hard enough he was sure that he would be able to spell his name with the cracks.
Bran had been prickly all day and a small part of Will wished that he’d stayed in his own comfortable bed back at the farmhouse. But it was only a small part. Bran was his closest friend and they rarely got to spend time together. He wriggled, trying to find a comfortable position in the small space and his hip bumped Bran’s.
As if that was a cue to speak, Bran said abruptly, “They want me to get a new dog.”
“Oh?” Will said, trying to keep his voice neutral. Maybe this was the cause of Bran’s foul mood?
“There is a new litter of puppies at Jones Ty-Bont’s farm and Da thinks we should get one.” There was so much bitterness in Bran’s voice and Will hated to hear that. "He told me this morning that he thinks it is time we got," Bran almost spat the next words, “a replacement for Cafall. He thinks the farm could use another working dog.”
“But you aren’t ready,” Will said gently. It had been two years but it was obvious from his words that Bran missed his dog almost as fiercely as he had when Cafall was first shot. Will mentally cursed Caradog Pritchard and the manipulations of the Dark for the thousandth time.
“There could never be a replacement for him. Never.” The sound Bran made sounded suspiciously like a sob and Will ached to comfort him but knew that Bran wouldn’t accept it. He settled for deliberately bumping Bran’s hip with his own and they fell, once again, into silence.
Easter, two years later
Will was jolted out of sleep as something rolled into him. He kicked out hard but something was trapping his leg and he remembered that he was in a sleeping bag. The aborted kick must have done something, however, because there was a muffled groan in response.
“You didn’t have to kick me,” Bran said. His voice sounded slightly muffled and Will remembered that Bran had pulled the hood of his sleeping bag tightly round his face before going to sleep. “I didn’t do it on purpose; it was your idea to pitch this tent on a slope.”
“No it wasn’t," Will whispered back. "That was James. Showing off all his scouting experience.” James was snoring away happily on his other side and he really didn’t want to wake him. His brother was grouchy when he didn’t get enough sleep.
“Well, it obviously didn’t take. This is the most uncomfortable place I’ve ever slept in," Bran said. "I swear every stone in Buckinghamshire was dumped in this field.”
Will snorted. The campsite they’d chosen was a little stony, but it wasn’t that bad. He wondered how much camping Bran had actually done. His father had always been so reluctant to let Bran do anything social and he lived close enough to the moors that he never needed to stay out overnight.
Bran hadn’t moved away and Will could still feel him a couple of inches from his body. It was wonderful that Bran had been allowed to come on the holiday as Will hadn’t seen him for two years. Not since that last summer in Wales. Letters and the very occasional phone call just weren’t the same when it came to your best friend.
“I think he was trying to impress that girl with the speed at which he could put up the tent.”
“Oh,” Bran said. “That explains it.” He was quiet for a second and then he asked with fake casualness, “Will, do you have a girlfriend?”
“Uh, no,” Will replied in surprise. “Do you?”
“All the girls at school think I’m a freak, so what do you think?” Bran said. “Not that I’m interested in them either.”
“Jane still writes to you, doesn’t she? You said you thought she was pretty and she doesn’t think you’re a freak,” Will said hesitantly. He wasn’t sure if he wanted Bran to have a girlfriend. Even if it was someone as nice as Jane. He supposed that she was pretty but she was just another friend he saw occasionally, like Simon and Barney and another reminder of that other side of his life.
“I haven’t seen her for years,” Bran said dismissively. “And Simon would have a fit in any case. He was never my biggest fan.”
“He’s not that bad.”
“I suppose.” Will could hear Bran fiddling with the zip of his sleeping bag. Unzip. Zip. Unzip. Zip. “I’d like to know what it’s like to kiss someone, though.”
Will hesitated for a moment; did he want to share this with Bran? It was embarrassing but he decided to confess; this was Bran after all and he always tried to tell Bran everything he could. “One of Mary’s friends kissed me at Christmas.”
“Oh!” Bran sounded a little bit disappointed. “What was it like?”
“Messy,” Will said thoughtfully. I got spit all over my chin and she’d been eating Scotch eggs all evening."
“Yuck!” It was louder than the rest of their conversation but James snored on. Will imagined the disgusted face Bran must be pulling.
“Maybe it’s better if you like them?” Will said hopefully. “My brothers and sisters all seem to like it.”
“I don’t suppose I’ll ever find out,” Bran said. He didn’t even try to hide the plaintive note in this voice and Will could hear the rustle of his sleeping bag as he moved.
Will was beginning to feel strangely warm and he quickly said, “All Max’s art school friends are pretty unusual looking and they don’t seem to have any problems finding people to kiss.” Will recalled the events of one particularly memorable party that he’d crashed when he’d come downstairs in the middle of the night for a glass of water. “Maybe that’s different when you're older, as well?”
“I don’t know if I want to wait that long.”
Bran was so close to him that Will could feel his breath on his cheek. Time seemed to move slowly and every single beat of Will's heart felt incredibly loud. For the first time he wondered what it would be like to kiss Bran.
Then James snorted loudly, making Will jump. Bran rolled away leaving Will to lie in his sleeping bag and wonder exactly what had just happened.
February, seven years later
"Look what I found on the doorstep," Will said, as he came into the living room of the small London flat that he shared with Jane. They'd been living there for a year now after they had both graduated and moved to London, Will to start a PhD and Jane to start working in publishing. Will enjoyed living with Jane; despite her quick temper she was an easygoing housemate and they still got on very well.
Jane looked up from the television in surprise as Bran poked his head round the door. "Hey Jenny-oh! Long time no see."
"Bran!" Jane jumped to her feet and threw her arms around him. "I don't know you were coming. Will obviously forgot to tell me." She let go and aimed a mock glare at Will, who made a face at her and sat down on the beanbag in the corner.
"It was a last minute thing. I wanted a bit of an escape and Will just happened to phone at the right time," Bran said it with a wry grin but Will knew something was bothering him badly. The grin hadn't reached his eyes. It wasn't at all like Bran to jump at a casual invitation to visit, especially at such short notice when he was most likely needed on the farm where he had worked with his father since his graduation from University.
Jane obviously wanted to ask more but wisely kept her mouth shut; Bran didn't look like he wanted to share. As she sat back down, she said, "Will has pretty good timing like that."
Bran agreed and flopped down onto the sofa next to Jane. "What are you watching?" There were characters in colourful historical costumes on the screen and Will recognised one of Jane's favourite programmes with amusement.
"Merlin," she replied.
"Huh?" Bran said and continued to watch, nodding absently in response to Will's offer of a beer.
When Will returned a few minutes later with two beers and a glass of red wine for Jane, the two of them were in the middle of a squabble.
"… that blond idiot is supposed to be King Arthur?" Bran was saying. "He can't even stand up to his own father. It’s wrong, that's what it is."
"He's brave and a great leader," Jane replied heatedly. "It's not his fault Uther is such a hypocrite. Anyway, it's just one version and I like it."
Bran made a face at her and tried to grab the remote control. "I'm not watching any more of this nonsense. Don't you agree, Will?"
"Don't bring me into this," Will said with a grin. "It's a fun programme and the Gwen in it is brilliant." He put the drinks on the coffee table and sat down. "Jane, you should see his reaction to Monty Python. Completely loses what little sense of humour he had to begin with."
Bran glared at him.
"Honestly. The first time he saw the Holy Grail it triggered a two hour rant."
"It just wasn't funny." Bran said, sulkily.
Jane giggled. "I'm used to it from Barney. He's still a King Arthur nut," she said. "But Will, as a historian, I thought you'd be the one who was more bothered."
"Exactly why I don't take it too seriously," Will said with a shrug. "I'm particularly fond of T.H. White myself. Living backwards, brilliant stuff. Anyway, to change the subject before you two resort to fisticuffs. Bran, how's Dafydd?"
He regretted the words as soon as they'd left his mouth. Instead of the smile he'd hoped to inspire, the usual result of mentioning Bran's boyfriend of two years, Bran's face darkened. That would be the cause of the problem, then. Will had assumed that it was something to do with his father or his job on the farm. Dafydd and Bran had always seemed so happy together and Will had been pleased for them, really, even though it meant he saw far less of Bran than he'd like. It was wonderful that Bran had found someone so close to his world who didn't care that he was different.
Bran shrugged. “Fine, I suppose,” he said shortly and concentrated his attention on the television screen again.
Jane took pity on Will and asked, "So, about that curry you've been slaving away on for the last few hours. Is it nearly done? I'm starving."
"I think so," Will said, grateful for the save. He went to the kitchen, followed shortly after by both Jane and Bran. The curry smelt wonderful and Will was pleased to see that he hadn't burnt it for once.
As they put the finishing touches to the meal, the conversation turned to food and the weirdest things they'd ever eaten. Disconcertingly Jane kept winking at Will whenever Bran wasn't watching. He remembered that he'd once confessed that he'd thought that Bran was one of the most attractive men he knew, over several bottles of wine when they'd first moved into the flat. Purely theoretically, of course, because Bran was his best friend but Jane obviously didn't think that.
* * *
After they had eaten, Jane excused herself saying that she'd arranged to meet a colleague for a drink. Will hadn't heard anything about this earlier and he was certain that Jane had invented it just to give him time alone with Bran. It was a little annoying of her but he supposed that it would be easier to find out what was the matter with Bran.
Several beers later they were still sitting on the sofa in the dimly lit room, the only light coming from a table lamp on the bookcase. Will was in the middle of describing the latest doings of his most irritating office mate, when Bran said, "I'm thinking of going back to university."
"Really?" Will couldn't keep the surprise out of his voice; the alcohol was making him careless. For all Bran's excellent academic record, Will had always thought that Bran much preferred the practical side of his degree. "To do what?"
"I dunno. I'm not like you and Jane, happily spending three years immersed in your dreaming fenland, insulated from the real world. I want to do something bigger, something useful," Bran said. "I've had a few ideas, but…" he trailed off, looking miserably at Will as if he could magically produce an answer.
"You're mixing your metaphors a bit," Will said with a small smile. "But that's a great idea. I'm sure you'll find something perfect." He'd always known that Bran was destined for something bigger. He'd spent so long just being the son of Owen Davies, the ordinary farmer. Will could understand that Bran didn't want to tear himself away from the Welsh Hills, but as Arthur Pendragon's son he had so much potential. Even if he was unaware of that heritage.
"But what brought all this on? I thought that you loved farming."
"I do, but I don't just want to slide into being my father." Will smiled at the echo of his thoughts. "Also I don't know how much longer I can live with him." Bran drained his beer and reached for another. "Dafydd broke up with me last week."
"I'm sorry." By now Will had been expecting that news but he hadn't expected to feel genuinely sorry about it. He hated to see Bran this unsure and miserable.
"I should have expected it. I couldn't introduce him to Da and he was sick of the sneaking around," Bran said. "But Will, I just couldn't tell Da. He's my only family and I'd lose him. I just can't." His voice broke on the last word.
Will reached out and pulled Bran into a fierce hug. "Hey, hey," he said nonsensically. Bran's body was stiff under his arms but he held on tightly. He wondered how much the alcohol had given him the courage to do this; he wasn't usually the hugging type.
Bran spoke into his shoulder, "I just need to get away, so I can be myself. I don't want to hide every day." Will patted his back soothingly and gradually Bran relaxed and hugged him back. They sat there in silence, their arms around each other loosely until after a long time Bran's breathing evened out and Will thought that he was asleep. Will sat enjoying the feeling of Bran's body against his until he fell asleep.
January, ten years later
"Dammit, I forgot the coal." Bran slammed the door of the stove in the kitchen of his father's cottage shut. He shivered and tucked his hands deeper into the pockets of his sheepskin jacket. "I'd forgotten how cold it could get here. I'm spoiled by city living and central heating."
He looked at his watch; Will could see the luminescent glow of the dial just visible in the low light. "Fuck!" Bran let out a slow breath. "Will, I'm so sorry, there will be nowhere open at this time of night."
Will was shivering. Despite being well wrapped up, with a scarf up to his nose and a hat pulled down well over his ears, he was still cold.
“Don’t worry, we’ll work something out.” They were both tired from the long drive from London even though they'd taken turns at the wheel. Will had done most of the driving because Bran had been in a state of barely suppressed panic for most of the journey. Eventually Bran had received a call from David Evans letting him know the car crash hadn't been as serious as originally thought and that Bran’s father’s injuries were minor. They would miss visiting hours and he'd suggested that they wait until the morning to go to the hospital.
"I'll make up the bed in my room, that'll be warmer than sleeping separately," Bran said. Will's heart leapt. As an Old One, he could think of ten different ways to keep warm but the regular guy inside him wasn't going to object to Bran's suggestion.
Will did have one qualm, however, thinking back to the first time they’d shared a bed. “Are you sure that we’ll fit?” he asked. Dubiously taking in his own stocky body and all six feet of Bran’s muscular frame. Even though Bran hadn't worked on the farm regularly for a couple of years it had certainly left an effect.
Bran smiled for the first time since Will had picked him up that afternoon. “I got a bigger bed a long time ago.” He bent down and picked up their bags. “You boil the kettle for a hot drink and I’ll get the bedding. Tea and cocoa should be in the cupboard on the left and I’d imagine that there is some milk left in the fridge.” He disappeared up the dark stairs to his room.
* * *
Will carried two steaming mugs of cocoa up to Bran’s room. In the soft golden glow of the bedside light it looked much as he remembered although the shelves were empty of books. His rucksack was on a chair and the much larger bed was piled high with a clashing mix of brightly coloured blankets. Bran was already stripping off his clothes so Will put the mugs down and followed suit.
“Wall or outside?” Bran asked, picking up one of the mugs and taking a sip. He closed his eyes in contentment and then licked a drop of chocolate that had escaped from the mug.
Will shrugged and busied himself folding his clothes so he wouldn’t stare too hard at Bran. He didn’t mind one way or the other.
“You first, then.”
The lower sheet was still cool against Will’s skin despite the mass of blankets above and he didn’t watch as Bran slid in next to him. He flinched slightly as Bran’s leg made contact with his own.
This was going to be very different from the previous times he'd slept next to Bran, now he knew exactly why he liked it so much. Bran's move to London had given them the chance to spend much more time together and Will had given up the pretence that he didn't care for Bran as more than a friend. He was certain that Bran had no idea and Will didn't want that to change; it would be the worst recipe for heartbreak. As an Old One, Will would always have different priorities, but he couldn't stop himself from wishing, particularly at moments like this. Bran smelt so good. Under the aroma of cocoa, Will could still smell the faint scent of the soap Bran had used that morning despite six hours spent squashed in a small car.
“Thanks for coming. I’d have probably driven off the road at some point without you,” Bran said, staring into his mug. “I just never imagined that he’d ever be breakable. I thought he’d always be here for me to come back and explain and the news just shook me.”
“He’s going to be all right. Uncle David said that his injuries are actually fairly minor.”
“Yeah, but that first message. God!” Bran’s fist clenched on the blankets beneath his hand. “I thought I was going to lose him. If you hadn't called just after…" he trailed off, leaving Will to picture exactly what could have happened. “How do you always know exactly when to call me?”
Will smiled faintly. “It’s my magic powers.” He tried to make it a joke, but there was always that connection. He didn't know whether it was because Bran had been, no - was the Pendragon or if it was because he loved him.
“Idiot,” Bran swatted at him and Will barely managed to rescue the mug of cocoa from capsizing. He drained it to prevent further accidents.
“But seriously. Thank you. Dad’s all I have and- well, you know-.” Bran fell silent as he sipped the rest of his drink.
Will closed his eyes and thought about the day. He’d called Bran on a whim in a break between tutorials and had been surprised to hear the barely suppressed panic in Bran’s voice as he explained that his father had been in a car crash and he needed to get to Wales immediately. Will had cancelled his last tutorials for the day, shoved some clothes into a bag and picked Bran up in London an hour later.
Will felt something nudge his shoulder and opened his eyes to see Bran reaching for the mug held tilted in his hands. He handed it over and Bran placed it on the bedside table next to his own empty mug. Will took that as a signal to get under the covers and Bran turned off the light.
After what felt like hours of lying there, Will was still awake and staring at the cracks in the ceiling, there seemed to be more of them than before, but that could just be the light. Bran was so close and if he wanted, Will could reach out and touch him with no effort. He could comfort him, even if it didn’t mean as much to Bran as it would to Will. He was still cold and was desperately trying not to move in case he woke Bran, who’d been breathing steadily for ages. Bran needed all the sleep he could get, that would be the only break from worrying about his father he could get. However staying still was a lost cause and Will couldn’t stop the huge shiver that went through him.
“Are you still cold?” Bran’s sleepy voice came as a shock out of the darkness.
“Mmm,” said Will, giving up on his battle to stay still and turning over on his side so he was facing the wall. “Sorry to wake you.”
“You didn’t. Too much to think about,” Bran said and scooted close behind him and wrapped an arm round Will’s stomach. “You should have said something.”
Will tensed at the sudden contact. He could feel Bran’s breath on the back of his neck and Bran was very warm. This felt good.
“Go to sleep, you idiot,” Bran said into his hair and Will felt a gentle pressure against his scalp that might have been a kiss. Will started to relax and thought that he might manage to sleep after all.
January, one day later
Owen Davies was sitting up when they arrived at the hospital the next morning. He was looking thin and pale and his face was bruised. There was a large lump under the blanket that must have been the cast on his broken leg. Will hung back as Bran spoke to his father.
"You didn't need to come," Owen said stiffly. "I'm not badly hurt."
"Of course I had to," Bran said tightly. "I didn't know that when I left the house."
They started speaking softly and rapidly in Welsh and Will couldn't follow. Although he'd learnt the language and could read it easily, he rarely heard it spoken. The argument he'd anticipated never materialized and he could see the tension draining from Bran's shoulders as they spoke. Their gestures indicated that they were discussing Owen's injuries. Will watched them and tried to stop himself remembering how it had felt to wake that morning to find Bran already gone. They hadn't talked about the... Will wasn't sure what to call it, snuggling, maybe and Will wasn't sure if he wanted to. For now he would just chalk it up to Bran needing comfort.
Eventually a nurse arrived to tell them that visiting time was over for the morning.
"It's been good to see you, bachgen," Owen said. He looked at Will for the first time. "Thank your 'friend' for driving you, from me."
Will could almost hear the inverted commas around the word friend.
Owen continued, "It wouldn't have done to have both of us in this condition." He tried to smile but it didn't quite reach his eyes.
Bran started visibly at his father's words and opened his mouth, probably to deny it, and then with a sideways glance at Will, he closed it again. He leaned forward and patted his father's hand and said, "Thanks, Da. I'll see you tomorrow," and he followed Will out of the ward.
* * *
The journey back to the farm took place in silence. All Will could think about were Owen's words. Not just that he knew that Bran was gay, although that was surprising enough, but that he thought that Will was his partner. His own feelings couldn’t be that obvious, could they? Will supposed that his presence in the hospital made it an obvious conclusion to draw. Surely it couldn't be based on something that Bran had done?
He didn't have much time to brood about it because his Uncle David and Aunt Jen came to meet the car as they pulled up to the cottage, and they were invited down to the main farmhouse. Aunt Jen had hugs for both of them and Uncle David had a few questions about Owen's condition.
They’d spent the rest of the day at the Evans’ farm. Bran had offered to help with the livestock and Will had barely seen anything of him all day. Will had taken the opportunity to catch up with some marking and to pass on all the family news to Aunt Jen. She also seemed to think that he and Bran were together and she seemed so pleased by the idea that he didn't have the heart to correct her.
After a late supper in the warm and cosy kitchen, where they had been fed more than Will would usually eat in three meals, they headed back to the cottage. Aunt Jen's parting words were an invitation to breakfast. "You boys need to make sure you're fed properly and there's barely enough food in that cottage."
At some point Bran must have fetched some coal because the cottage was far warmer than the previous day. Bran couldn't stop yawning and when they'd taken turns in the bathroom, Will told him to go straight to bed. "I'll get some blankets and make up my bed downstairs."
Bran looked at him in confusion as if he couldn't work out what Will was talking about. "Wait."
Will stopped halfway to the door and Bran grabbed his wrist. "Stay."
"What?" Will wasn't even thinking now. He was trying to suppress a little ball of hope that was welling inside him.
"I'm an idiot," Bran declared looking much more awake than he had a minute ago. His hand around Will's wrist was still tight and Will took an involuntary step closer towards him. "He knew. About me, I mean. I've tried to hide it from him for so long and Da already knew."
"He loves you." Will said simply.
"Yeah." Bran seemed to make a decision then, his eyes focussed directly at Will's. "And he's not the only one."
Will's heart was in his mouth. Was this the beginning or the end of something? He nodded slowly.
Bran let out a sharp breath and pulled Will to him, sliding one hand into his hair. "You've just always been there for me and I didn't realise." He was looking at Will as if he'd never seen him before. "God, Will. How long have you loved me?"
Will slid his hands into the fine strands of Bran's hair and kissed him, with all the pent up longing that he'd been hiding. All his conflicting priorities as an Old One were forgotten; Bran wanted him.
Bran held on to Will tightly as his mouth opened against Will's. If Will had ever allowed himself to think about it, he would have imagined that their first kiss would be tentative, full of gentle exploration and affection but instead this was a full-on onslaught of his senses. He could taste the peppermint of Bran's toothpaste, feel his stubble scratching his chin and hear the pounding of his heart. It felt amazing.
Bran was growing hard against his hip and Will couldn't stop himself from thrusting against him. It wasn't just a kiss anymore and Will couldn't believe that this was happening. Bran's hands were sliding over his back and down his arms, making him shiver. Will traced the line of Bran's ear and jaw finding a place that made Bran gasp into his mouth. Will had so much to find out about Bran and there was no hesitation now.
They broke apart eventually, breathing hard. Bran looked at him as he traced the brand burned into Will’s arm. There was an expression on his face that Will had never seen before; it was so open and hopeful. Will had always wanted to see Bran like this and knowing that he was responsible for it was wonderful.
"Come to bed with me, Will."
And Will went.