There was fire.
Fire and smoke and blood and great, luminous, silver eyes watching him.
Cafall’s eyes were always silver in his dreams, as if he were trying to live up to the supernatural goodness Bran credited him with. No ordinary dog could have been what Cafall was.
But then he woke, and he was only Bran, and Cafall was only the best dog that ever was, and everything else faded quickly from his memory.
There was fire.
Fire and smoke and blood and a fox too big to be real. A Milgwn straight out of the tales.
Cafall was the best dog that ever was. This was what Bran told himself when he startled awake with the vision of a grey muzzle, blood-soaked in his mind. Cafall was the best dog that ever was, and he could never accept that the dog had been a sheep-killer. No one else had seen the fox that day, so of course it hadn’t been real, just an attempt to preserve Cafall as he should have been.
There was fire.
Fire and smoke and blood and a boy who ran after him, calling his name.
Will was in his dreams sometimes. Bran thinks he wouldn’t even remember the boy who’d come to convalesce with his aunt if it hadn’t been for the dreams. He would have slipped from Bran’s mind the way everything else from the dreams did. Even so, he sometimes worried that he didn’t really remember Will, that the boy was simply something he conjured up like Cafall’s eyes. An invention of a mind that so desperately wanted there to be someone who’d care that Bran was chasing Cafall across the mountainside.
As he sat down to breakfast that morning, mechanically spooning porridge into his mouth, he looked up at Owen, at his father. “Do you remember the boy who came to stay at the Evans’ farm once?”
He knew it was an odd question, knew before his father turned to look at him, a concern in his eyes Bran wasn’t comfortable with. “Now what has you thinking of that, boy?” he asked, and Bran shrugged like the answer was not at all important.
“I was only wondering,” he mumbled into his bowl, frowning and turning his face away from those eyes so different from his own.
Owen paused a moment, and the silence hung heavily around them.
Bran knew also that his father suspected the bent his dreams took. He knew he’d woken up yelling Cafall’s name, yelling other things that made less sense. He knew that his father must have heard, but Owen Davies never came to check on him, never mentioned the dreams.
“You ought to ask David Evans about him if you’re curious to know. Will must be about finishing up with school now.”
Bran hadn’t thought of that before. In his mind Will was still as he’d been when Bran knew him. He might have aged, but Will was ageless.
There was fire.
Fire and smoke and blood and a young man who ran after him, calling his name.
For the first time, Bran paused at the sound of the voice, knowing, even in his dream, that it wasn’t right. He stopped, though it hurt to see Cafall disappearing over the ridge, chasing that damned fox.
“Who are you?” he asked the man, annoyed that he’d been pulled from his chase, worry about Cafall nagging at his mind. (And something else too, something he couldn’t identify.)
“You know who I am, Bran ap Arthur.”
The nagging got worse, but Bran peered closer, a smile stealing onto his face as recognition dawned. “Will?”
This was not the boy he remembered but the man his father had suggested to him, and Bran could not help stepping closer.
“You are needed again, Pendragon,” he said, and Bran caught the familiar tones in a voice so different from the one he remembered.
Before he could ask what he was needed for, the sound of a shotgun rang across the mountain, and as Bran turned in horror toward it, he sat up in bed, mind struggling to hold on to something that slipped through its grasp like water through a sieve.
He hadn’t intended to ask David Evans about his cousin, but when he ran into the farmer in town, the question spilled from his lips before he could stop it, and he couldn’t explain the relief he felt when Mr. Evans told him Will was coming to stay again over his summer holiday.
There was fire.
Fire and smoke, but no blood this time, and the fire seemed to be in Bran’s veins as he stood on the mountaintop waiting. Waiting for a young man who’d grown from the boy Bran had known, and he found himself wanting to know the young man more, better than he had known the boy, even.
“Bran ap Arthur,” came a voice from behind him, and he turned to see a figure he could now clearly tie to the boy he’d met once so long ago.
“Why do you call me that?” he asked, foregoing a greeting in favor of making some sense of this nonsense.
“You know,” Will said again. “Here in this place, you can remember. You only tell yourself you can’t because it is easier for your mind to accept that you are as ordinary as you have never been.”
It wasn’t so much that the memories came back when Will spoke. It was more like Bran allowed himself to see what had been there all along.
“Will Stanton,” he said, a calm settling over him that he had not felt in far too long. “Old One of the Light, I greet you.”
Will smiled then, and Bran’s calm deepened. “You are needed again, Pendragon.”
“You said,” Bran reminded him. “Only, I don’t know what I can do now. I’m mortal, remember.”
“You chose to follow the bonds of love,” Will said, and there was something in his voice that made Bran’s heart ache.
“And in doing so, I gave up my birthright. What more could I possibly give?”
“Yourself,” Will offered simply. “The High Magic demands no less.”
“I thought the Dark had been defeated.”
“The agents of the Dark are still at work, even cut off from their lords. And some of them remember.”
“But I don’t,” Bran said, a plaintive note in his voice.
“How are you so certain?” He knew that he would forget again, that when he woke this encounter would slip from his mind as all the others had.
“Because you are the Pendragon. You must remember.”
He was finishing his chores that afternoon when his father found him and said, “That boy you were asking about came in on the train this morning. He’s up at the Evans farm now. Funny, that, with you asking only the other day.”
“Funny,” Bran repeated, smiling without thought.
There was fire.
Just fire. No smoke, no blood.
It was cozy here in this parlor, and the fire that crackled did so merrily, no malice in the heat of it.
"Where are we?" Bran asked, though it wasn't until the words had left his mouth that he realized he was not alone.
Will smiled at him from a high backed chair, the twin of the one Bran sat in, comfortably sipping tea. "Somewhere from my memory. It's not somewhere I can visit in the real world, but here in dreams I can still find it."
"But it's my dream," Bran pointed out, a little annoyed that Will was taking over here in his own mind.
Will's face shifted into a faint frown. "I thought you would like it," he said, then shook his head and amended, "I thought I'd like to share it with you."
That made Bran smile even as it brought that ache back to his heart. He knew now what it was for. "Have you been alone all this time?"
“Not really,” Will said. “I’ve had my family.”
“But no one who remembers, no one who can understand.”
"For the most part," he answered, and Bran wanted to pull that frown from his face and replace it with anything more content. Will ducked his head a moment before confessing, "I have sometimes...watched you."
He shook his head. "No. Here."
It took Bran a moment, but he nodded his understanding. "In my dreams."
"Are you angry with me?"
He thought about that for a moment as well. "No," he said finally. "Disappointed, I think."
His lips quirked up into a crooked smile. "That you never said hullo."
Will laughed, and Bran wanted to hold onto that sound, but all too soon it faded into the morning light.
Bran had business on the Evans farm, he truly did, but he could admit to himself that he went out of his way to find Will once he was there, curious about this boy who had come into his mind so serendipitously.
When Will greeted him with a smile and a bright, "Hullo," Bran's heart ached, though he could not have said why.
"And whose dream is this?" Bran asked softly, looking around the comfortably furnished bedroom.
"I think it might be mine," Will admitted, a blush creeping onto his face that spoke more to a young man than an Old One. "Though I had hoped...."
He trailed off, and Bran found it curiously easy to finish the thought. "That it was mine as well?"
"I'm sorry," Will said. "I know you've not remembered me, nor any of our time together. Not the important ones, anyway. I've just been so...lonely."
"Hush, cariad," Bran murmured, the endearment coming naturally. "You think you're the only one? At least you knew why you felt it."
Will laughed then and seemed to steel himself before reaching hesitantly for Bran's hand, which Bran offered with more surety than he felt.
For a moment, in the morning, Bran found himself in both worlds, not quite awake but not quite sleeping.
"I wish I could remember this," he whispered into Will's hair.
"You will. In due time."
When he met Will for lunch in the village, his heart felt lighter, and the smile he offered felt too warm for reunited childhood friends and yet somehow perfect for them.