She dreams about him, as she knew she would. Five fingers stretch straight through all of her nightmares into her dreams, the good ones; his eyes are piercing and steady and she wonders, really, how anyone could forget Great-Uncle Merry. Not her, certainly. Not ever.
(It was touch and go there for a while, though. It almost didn't work out.)
On a hill in Wales, Bran Davies gives Jane Drew a blue-green stone. Their skin brushes as she takes it and his eyes catch hers, sharp, careful.
When she closes her fingers around it, all she can smell is the sea, salty and wet and ever-present. She takes a sharp, stuttering breath, feeling her lungs fill up, fighting for air-- then she is Jane again, and Will Stanton's eyes are on her shoulders.
She smiles at him. The air is crisp and clear. They are not so close to the sea.
"Jane," Simon says, "we're losing you."
She looks up. The sun is in her eyes. She thinks, you lost me on the rocks at Kemare Head, but Barney is throwing a sprig of lavender at her so she laughs, catches it. "I’m right here," she says. "Hey-- do you ever dream about summers, when we were younger? Those times in Aberdyfi, and Trewissick."
Barney's hair is falling over his eyebrows. "In a King Arthury sort of way," he says. "But not really."
"It was a bit of a silly question," she concedes.
They are sitting at the kitchen table; snowdrifts are piling up outside, and everyone is home for Christmas. She is fifteen years old and there is a pile of salt in front of her from the salt shaker. She drags her fingertip through it and thinks about the Greenwitch, about the lake in Wales with the Lady with her clear eyes, the way she'd looked at Jane, like there was something strong about her.
Jane, she thinks. Jana, Juno, Jane.
The Greenwitch crashes through her dreams, like the waves against the shore. Its body smashes against her subconscious and it looks at her, eyeless, seaweed wrapped around its limbs and its body in a dark green tangle.
Jane, the Greenwitch says. Remember.
They come in flashes, hints of a life she doesn't remember living until it's there, visceral, unforgettable, the thing that defined her once upon a time. She wakes up and expects seaweed in her teeth, but instead she gets images burned on the insides of her eyelids; tawny eyes, fringed with dark lashes; a grail, gold, writing she can't read curving all around it; a painting, oil and twisted and confused and malevolent.
She sees an unfamiliar bold nose that she knows so well her heart catches, sees a striking shock of white hair; be of good cheer, he says, and she is anything but.
She wakes up crying, salt in her mouth, so she can only think of the sea.
Jane is eleven years old. The wind is whipping her hair into her eyes, mouth, nose. It’s salty, like her childhood summers, caught up in the sea.
Will Stanton is sitting next to her; his eyes are infinite, ancient. "There’s always a Lady," he says. "To fight back the Dark."
Jane thinks: this never happened. She says, "Will?"
His eyelashes are sharp, striking. "She’s gone," he says. "They’re all gone. There’s only me."
She doesn't know if he's real, if this is real. (We’ve got a long way to go, he says, twelve years old and a world away, resigned, too calm.) She slides her hand along the space between them, into his. "No," she says. "There’s me."
Jane says, You left. There’s no Lady anymore.
It’s the Lady, from the lake. The sound of her voice is the pressure of water in Jane's ears, still, heavy, slow-moving. There’s you, she says. If you like. Her voice is gentle, careful; she stands in front of Jane, beautiful and familiar and ageless, transcendant, captivating.
There’s no Dark, Jane says, pulling herself together. There’s no fight. She is thinking about Will, quiet and alone and very, very old.
There’s the Light, the Lady says. Her mouth tilts up at the edges, wry and a little regretful, if Jane is looking close enough. There’s the Wild Magic, always, and the High Magic.
Jane looks away, down at herself. She’s floating, underwater; light filters pale and mottled through the water to paint her fingers with light and shadow.
Someone has to balance the Light, Jane.
Bran's stone is in her hand. She clenches her fist tight, and opens her eyes.
Simon says, "Jane?" He's sitting on the edge of her bed, hand on her lamp with the light flaring out through his fingers, like a halo.
She sits up, brushing her hair out of her face; it's damp, from the tears. "Simon?"
"I know I haven't been--" he says, guilty like he often is, about boarding school. "Are you all right?"
She has to smile, even though her heart is cracking and she feels desperate, and alone. "Yeah," she says, "of course," but she shuffles over, closer to him, so she can drop her head on his shoulder and feel very very young. "Do you ever dream about the grail?" The urgency in her voice scares her, a little. She bites her lip hard.
He kisses her forehead. "I think you want Barney, for that."
She closes her eyes so he won't see them welling up, twines her fingers through his. "Yeah," she says. "My mistake."
It’s not funny, really. She doesn't feel any different. She isn't any different. She just: remembers.
She talks to Simon and Barney and wants to cry, because she is a sensible person and if Great-Uncle Merry told them to forget they will, but it feels like there is this giant secret eating her up inside. It feels like they should know. Barney, she thinks, should be allowed to remember Arthur; Simon should know that he was so, so brave.
She keeps an address book, has since she was ten or so. There are faded cottage-painting flowers on the cover in pastel green, blues, purples. She flips through the pages, still a little crisp, with notes falling out of them until she is at a cramped, messy, blue-ink address.
She stares at it for a long time, and then she goes to steal some of Simon's stamps.
The letter says:
I don't know if you remember me, but my name is Jane Drew. We had a summer together, when we were twelve. I’m English, you were unimpressed by my brothers. You gave me a stone.
How have you been?
It is an awkward thing, but his rock is sitting on the edge of her desk and when she runs her fingers over the edge of it she feels stronger, a little. There is a world inside of her but she isn't ready to open it up, to step inside.
For now: there is a boy she used to know on the other side of the United Kingdom, and she is writing him a letter.
She pauses, for a moment, and then she adds P.S., The mountains were singing.
Bran writes her back. Of course I remember, he says. It was a good summer.
Jane tucks her knees up under her chin to read the letter, fingers tracing the lines of ink.
I’ve been good. It’s been a rainy, rainy winter.
Barney breathes on the back of her neck and she jumps. "Hi," he says, grinning. "Who’re you writing to?"
She folds it up quickly, proprietary for reasons she doesn't entirely understand. She remembers feeling Bran before, the way his presence made her shiver down to her toes, and then after; just a boy, after all, with white hair and odd eyes and a surprisingly sweet smile. "King Arthur," she says, sticking her tongue out.
"I’m mostly over him now," Barney says, frowning, "no need to be like that."
She has this dream: Great-Uncle Merry is smiling at her, calm, steady. she is wearing a dress and Mary-Janes and her hair is neatly tied up but she isn't a child anymore; she's sixteen, she's Jane.
She says, "Why," and is so angry she's surprised at the way she's breathless, incandescent. "You loved us."
"You know I never stopped," he says, and it is so gentle, so careful; she can't not believe him, can't not trust him. His eyes are piercing, clear; she wonders if this is him, or just her subconscious, or something else in the mess that is her head, these days. "Jane."
She fiddles with the hem of her skirt. Her voice sounds petulant, grating; she winces, saying, "It was the Wild Magic that wouldn't let me forget."
"It was you," he says. "You didn't want to forget. You’re more powerful than you think you are, Jane Drew."
She thinks: Well, my subconscious is a bit of a narcissist.
The bottom of Bran’s letter says, the mountains were beautiful, that year. She wonders if there is any part of him that remembers saving her, that remembers what he was.
She wonders what he’d choose, now. (She wonders what she would choose, if she had a choice.)
She buys a train ticket and goes to Trewissick. The rocks are just like she remembered them; she picks her way along the sand and then keeps going until the water hits her skin, salty and sharply cold; she blinks it out of her eyelashes and waits for something, anything to happen. (She remembers: when she was young, when there was a grail just out of reach, and she was just Jane, and she had her brothers with her in every way.)
She turns, twists towards the shore and watches the waves ripple out past her hips. "Hi," she says, trailing her fingertips in the water, not really trying to make her voice carry.
Far away, on the sand, Will Stanton is smaller than life. He cups his hands around his mouth. "Mind if I join you?"
He’s wearing pants and a button-down shirt. She tilts her head, grins a little. "Of course not."
The water seeps up through the fabric of his clothes, darkness rising and rising and rising; he doesn't seem to mind, taking steady measured steps, looking nothing like any other sixteen year old boy she's ever met. His hair is as floppy as it was when he was eleven and they gave the Greenwitch a secret; his eyes are kind, like they were then. Looking at Will Stanton it is hard to believe the Light could be cruel, and then proven by the very nature of his existence.
"It’s been a while," he says. He looks older than he was when they were young, sadder too.
She laughs. "How have you been, Will Stanton?" The wind rushes across their shoulders; her hair is in her mouth and there are goosebumps on her arms and she's thinking, are you going to make me forget? Part of her is thinking, please make me forget.
His shirt billows, flaring in and out. "As well as can be expected," he says, lightly. "And yourself?"
"Well enough," she says. Her hair is curling, damp, around her ears. She tucks it back and the press of her fingertips against her own cheek is icy, icy cold. "Sort of lonely, but you'd know more about that than me."
He flinches. "Jane--"
"Will." Her voice is calmer than she knew she was capable of. The sea shifts around her, as if it's restless; when she tilts her head up to the sky a grey cloud is rolling in. "We're the only two people in the world who remember."
His voice cracks. "It was only supposed to be me." He sounds like a boy, then, like the jeweller's son with the little band of gold and the round pleasant face she could never be afraid of. "It’s not-- Merriman's the first, this isn't how it's supposed to go."
She shrugs. "Well, it's done now," she says, and takes a deep shaking breath. "I don't want you to make me forget."
He bites his lip. "I don't know that I could." (Would, she sees, in the colour of his eyes.)
Her hand is pale, on top of the water, in between them.
His fingers are still warm, when he wraps them around hers.
The worst part of it, really, is that there is no longer a plan. When she was a child, when she was young, it was sort of easier (not really, but sort of). There was black and white, the Light and the Dark, and even if it didn't make sense she knew what she was supposed to do-- find a grail, find a piece of parchment, hold a Sign, hold together-- and everything would work itself out.
She wonders if losing that certainty is what's screwed her up, or the knowledge that Simon and Barney feel like they never had it; if that's why Barney stopped reading about King Arthur, if subconsciously Bran is aware of what he gave up.
Now there's this tangential idea of structure, something greater than her; the Lady, and the Wild Magic, and the sea-- but it's not enough, it's never enough.
(There is this thread, sometimes. This dream about Will. It catches her in the stomach and says, find him and keep him safe and it's weird, it's strange-- it's like being eleven again, hands on the end of a spool of cotton thread.
She’s not going to let go.)
"Jane," Will says. It's quiet and wondering, his voice around her name.
"I don't know what's going on," she says, softly. "I don't understand."
"I had a dream," he says. His clothes are dark with seawater. His hair is dripping down the nape of his neck. "You told me to find you."
Her beach towel has a seahorse on it. She traces the pattern of its mane and thinks about the circle quartered by a cross, shiny and hairless, on his wrist.
"I'm old enough to choose, now," she says. It sticks in her mouth, the knowledge of it; knowledge, she thinks, is magic in and of itself, and power, and she has none of it. "So are you."
There's sand between his toes; above them the sky is darker than it was when they were in the sea. He is sitting on a rock, looking out, with his sleeves heavy and wet; she's leaning against the grey stone, legs stretched out along her towel. The rest of the beach is empty, and the wind is rifling through her hair.
There's something in the air; Jane feels sleepy, sort of, removed, like she could walk across the water if she wanted to, like the world itself is impermanent; she wonders if this is what it feels like to be Will the Old One, if somewhere inside him Will the sixteen year old boy is screaming.
His eyelashes are dark against his skin, again. His shirt is slipping off his shoulder as he turns to catch her eye. “I don’t—“
You could forget, she thinks, fiercely. Maybe you should, maybe it would be better—you can, can’t you? You could make yourself Will Stanton again, just a boy, not alone.
He licks his lips. “That’s not how it works.”
“Will.” The depth, emotion, in her voice surprises her. She doesn’t even—she doesn’t even know what she wants, anymore. Bran, maybe; Simon, Barney. Someone to hold her hand and be on her side, not removed like Will, distant and in pain and different.
She takes a breath. “We’re going to get sunburnt,” she says. “It happens even in the shade, you know. We’d better go inside.”
His hand catches her arm and she finds herself staring at the scar, livid on his wrist, feeling the burn of his touch like a brand. “Jane,” he says, careful, like she’s fragile, “whatever you are—there’s a plan.”
“You hope.” She rises anyway, slipping out of his reach.
“I know,” he says, catching her hand for just one more moment. His smile is sharp, then. “Trust me, I’m a dewin.”
--When they are both back in their respective homes, she gets a letter.
We should go to Wales next break, it says, in familiar, neat handwriting. I know a place we could stay.
She grins at that, wonders what Bran looks like now; if he’s tanned, if he’s happy. Barney and Simon would probably come too, she’d twist their arms. The air would be clean, clear. They’d have fun. It would hurt, those hills, seeing the world where she was once upon a time someone else; but everything hurts, she knows, even real life.
There’s a post-script, a little less neat and full of blots where the pen paused on the page. When I saw you, in the sea, it says, and she can almost hear Will’s thoughtful Buckinghamshire voice, hesitating with each comma, flickering his ancient eyes away from hers, I thought you looked like a wren.