Chapter 1: Prologue
Diana Grantham was never cut out to be a mother, wife, or anything other than that mysterious but fabulous aunt that brought you extravagant gifts from her equally extravagant life when she popped by every few years. She was going to be a star, and she was well on her way. With her elegant curls, striking green eyes and a voice like warm honey she was charming her way to the top of the Indie film business and was even breaking into the the B-Movie scene.
That all changed when she met Maxwell Howell. He was big, tall and strong from carrying around special effects equipment all day and he had eyes that froze her in her tracks. Naturally, as twenty year old starlets are wont to do, she fell madly, passionately in love. Their romance burned bright and hot like petrol on a fire and burned out just as quickly. They parted ways with a devastating row and shouted promises that they’d never speak again.
A month later however, Maxwell opened his door to see a weeping Diana flanked by scowling Granthams raving about how no grandchild of theirs would be a bastard. That very afternoon Diana and Maxwell were standing in front of a preacher, hands clasped together with their parents behind them; Howells and Granthams glaring and blaming the others for their child’s misfortunes.
And so Diana Howell - oh how she wept at the loss of her elegant surname - took a break from the movie scene to have little Daniel and when she returned she found there was no place for a tired mother no one had heard from in over a year. She got a job as a drama teacher, Maxwell picked up a second job at the radio station and they settled in for their lives as a nuclear family.
Daniel learned from an early age to take care of himself. With a mother who constantly gazed out the window mourning lost dreams and a father who was too busy working a job he never wanted to support the family he never wanted Dan quickly taught himself the basics of self-care. By the age of two he was putting himself to bed, three he was well acquainted with fashion and how to dress himself, four he was preparing all his own meals, and five he had learned to read by furiously studying magazines and textbooks his mother left lying around.
But like all five year olds, Dan needed more than clothes, food and shelter; he constantly craved the love and attention he saw bestowed to the children on TV. Maybe that’s why he didn’t hesitate to take the hand of the man with the dark hair full of twigs and flowers and sharp blue eyes with pointed ears to match. Maybe that’s why he followed him deep into the woods, his childish giggle mixing with the man’s bell-like laughter. Maybe that’s why he ignored it when the man’s teeth turned to needles and gossamer wings the color of rainbows sprouted from his back. Maybe that’s why he did nothing but gasp in wonderment when they came to the stream that trickled behind his house where frogs who seemed as large as cars sleepily croaked their resonating lullabies.
Whatever the reason, Dan danced and laughed and ate with the entire town of adults who seemed to have no greater interest than showering him with affection and stuffing him full. He ate nuts and berries sweeter than any candy he’d ever had and cherries redder than anything he could imagine. The entire time he sat with The Blue Eyed Man who was always smiling at him like he was the most important thing in the world and tickling his sides when he felt it’d been too long since Dan’s last laugh.
“Why did you bring me here?” Dan had asked, blinking big brown eyes full of all the adoration only a child could muster.
The Blue Eyed Man looked down and smiled a rueful smile. “You don’t belong in that world, Dan,” he explained, and he sounded so sad that Dan crawled into his lap to wrap tiny arms around his neck. He pulled Dan in for a tight hug. “You’re such a bright light and I never want that light to go out. Dan, the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.” He buried his face in Dan’s hair and let out a deep shuddery breath. “Oh, Dan, if only you could see what they would do to you. You’re so sad in that future and I can’t let that happen to you.”
“Can’t I just stay here with you?” Dan asked innocently. “I don’t want to go home. I like it here. I don’t like being lonely.”
“That’s the plan,” the Blue Eyed Man chuckled, coaxing out a few more giggles by prodding Dan’s sides. “You’ll never be lonely ever again.” The pair laughed together for a moment before Dan scrunched his eyes closed and yawned widely, playfully snapping at the Blue Eyed Man’s fingers when he poked his tongue. Then he snuggled down into the arms surrounding him and prepared himself for a long night’s sleep.
But good things can only last so long and suddenly Dan was startled awake by thunderous shouts and violent earthquakes. All around the adults who had only moments ago been dancing and laughing were darting about with panicked shouts to one another, as they one by one blinked out of existence. Dan looked up at the Blue Eyed Man to see him looking at Dan with just as much fear as all the others. He stood up and gently placed Dan on the ground, holding tight to his left hand. “I’ll come back for you,” he promised, crystal eyes shimmering with unshed tears. “Try not to be too sad, okay?” When Dan nodded he quickly bent forward and bit the back of the young boy’s hand.
Dan yelped and pulled his hand to his chest before investigating the slightly bleeding mark. “What’d you do that fo-” he trailed off for when he looked up there was nobody there. The tiny village was gone. The happy frogs were gone. All the people and the food were gone. But most importantly the Blue Eyed Man was gone. Dan brought his knees to his chest and wept at the loss of his first and only friend. He was alone again.
The rescue team - for that’s what had caused the earthquakes from earlier - found him within the hour, cold and alone and crying his eyes out. According to them he’d been missing for three days and his mother was worried sick. (She was, at first, but after a few days of watching Dan’s every move she figured he was safe again and resumed her window gazing, and a few years after that she figured her family no longer needed her and left.)
Every day Dan sat out in the back garden where he’d first met the Blue Eyed Man, looking out over the woods and he waited for his friend to come back for him. After a week his faith began to waiver. After a month he realized nobody was coming. After a year he figured it had all been a dream he’d come up with due to hunger. After three years he’d completely forgotten about it, save for the naggingly familiar blue eyes that haunted him in his sleep.
Chapter 2: Part One
Dan wasn’t five years old anymore. In fact, he wasn’t ten, he wasn’t fifteen, he wasn’t even twenty. Dan Howell was now a whole twenty five years old and just as alone as he was when he’d been found in the woods all those years ago. Sure, he had friends and even scattered boyfriends and girlfriends here and there, but it was never enough. In all twenty four years of his life he had never been anyone’s priority. He had never been anyone’s favorite person or the most important thing in someone’s life. He’d never had someone cancel other plans because he wanted to be with them (although he’d had plans canceled before) or had someone call him up to just to talk to him. He’d never had any of that and by this point he’d convinced himself he didn’t need it. No longer was he the little boy who danced and twirled for scraps of attention or the angsty teenager who layered on mask after mask to gain acceptance from his fellow students. No, he was just a sad man who knew he didn’t mean a thing to anybody.
“Howell, get back to work!”
Dan groaned and started mopping again. He might not mean anything to anyone but that didn’t mean he could get away with slacking off at work. There were worse places to work than the florist, he mused as he cleaned up the dirt on the floor. He would know, seeing as he’d probably bounced around every job offered up to people without a higher education in the entirety of Manchester. He’d worked everywhere from the community center to a vet’s office to a hardware store to the stationary shop to shelving at Tesco’s but he’d finally settled in at Miss Delilah’s Dahlias and at the local law firm as the IT guy.
“Daniel, honey, what’s wrong?”
Dan looked up and smiled. Mrs. Delilah was a sweet old lady with already wide eyes made comically large by the thick round glasses perched on the bridge of her nose. She had bony, delicate hands that were calloused and always covered in dirt, a majority of her wrinkles were laugh lines, and when she smiled her crows feet always stood out in sharp relief. She was such a contrast to her son, William, who helped her run the shop that Dan was sure they were secretly a slapstick duo. William was tall and burly with a flat nose and creases between his eyebrows from scowling too much. Dan didn’t like him and he didn’t like Dan. Neither of them cared to disguise the fact
“Nothing’s wrong, Mrs. D,” Dan smiled, leaning on his mop. “I was just thinking about a computer I’ll have to fix at work tomorrow.”
Mrs. Delilah pursed her lips in obvious concern. “You work too much, Daniel.”
“Doesn’t work enough if you ask me,” William muttered from behind the register, making no effort to keep his voice down.
Mrs. Delilah rounded on him, hackles raised and tongue cracking like a whip. “Mind how you speak,” she scolded, ignoring Dan’s poorly concealed giggles. “I didn’t raise my son to speak to others like that.” Deeming her son sufficiently cowed, she turned back to Dan.
“I’m okay, I promise,” Dan said, shaking his head. “It’s just getting to the end of the month and I’m a little stressed.”
“What if you worked here more?”
“Then we’d go broke, have to shut down and he’d lose what money he does make here,” William piped in, uninvited. Mrs. Delilah glared to him, but made no motion to correct him.
“It’s fine, Mrs. D,” Dan agreed. “I’ve got everything under control.”
The little old lady still looked unconvinced, but said only, “Okay, then. Be sure to be safe on your way home tonight. Lock the door three times and rap on the wood. It’s a full moon tonight; if you’re not careful the fairies will come in or snatch you away.”
“Full moon’s not until tomorrow, mum.”
“Am I closing up tonight then?” Dan asked, both of them blatantly ignoring William.
Mrs. Delilah nodded. “William and I have an event in Sheffield tomorrow and the day after. If you would, be a dear and come by those nights to make sure everything is in order?”
Dan nodded. “Course. And Sheffield, you said? That’s quite a way from here.”
“Speaking of which,” William said, popping up at her elbow, both of their coats over his arm, “we need to go if we want to catch that train tonight.”
“Yes, yes,” Mrs. Delilah scoffed dismissively, waving her hand.
William turned his gaze on Dan. “ I’ve already counted down the drawer, so you don’t have to. There’s nothing in there now, so you won’t have to worry about that tomorrow and Saturday, either.” Again, Dan nodded. “Come on, mum. Time to go.” With that he made his way to the door.
Mrs. Delilah frowned for a moment before startling Dan by pulling him in for a tight hug. He stiffened for a moment before melting into her hold. He’d been starved of physical affection too long to be picky about its source. “Be careful, Daniel,” she murmured into his shoulder. “I mean it.”
“You got it, Mrs. D,” Dan whispered back. When she pulled back she swiped under her eyes and looked at Dan like she’d never see him again. Then she turned and hurried after her son. Dan blinked for a moment trying to make sense of the odd interaction before shaking his head and getting back to work. An hour later he was done with cleaning and taking stock and smiled when he realized that he was getting home a half hour early. Surprisingly enough, he worked much faster without a man twice his size breathing down his neck and making sarcastic comments.
As he pulled the door closed he felt a familiar wetness lap gently at the back of his left hand. He looked down and beamed when he saw the familiar shaggy black fur. “Hey, Cujo,” he cooed, reaching down to scratch his ears. Not long after Dan had gotten his job at Mrs. Delilah’s (which was almost three years ago, wow) Cujo had shown up and started walking him home. At first sight Dan had been rightfully terrified, seeing as Cujo was gigantic, easily reaching his waist with long, discolored teeth that could probably gut Dan in a moment, but the dog had just happily barked at him, licked his left hand, and gulped down the sandwich crusts Dan had offered him. Since then Dan hadn’t felt a qualm of fear walking down dark London streets at night, especially seeing as Cujo liked to growl menacingly at anyone who looked at him funny. Despite his best efforts, Dan had never been able to convince his landlady to let him adopt the friendly giant, but Dan would admit to secretly sneaking him in when it was particularly cold or rainy (getting him to his third floor apartment was always loads of fun).
Dan turned away from the door and started home but Cujo barked sharply and stared at the door. “What’s wrong?” Dan asked. Cujo just barked again and continued staring. “If I didn’t know any better I’d say you were eavesdropping on me and Mrs. D,” he laughed, proceeding to lock the door three times and knock. “Happy?” he snarked at the dog, resolutely ignoring the fact that he was talking to a dog. Cujo yelped cheerfully and licked his hand. Grinning, Dan fished out the leftovers from his lunch and held them high in the air. “You want a peanut butter sandwich?” Cujo yapped and chased his tail for a moment before standing up on his back legs and resting his paws on Dan’s shoulders. “Down, boy!” Dan giggled. When Cujo was back on all four paws he tossed the sandwich, which Cujo snapped out of the air and swallowed whole. When blue eyes looked up at him pleadingly, Dan held up his hands in a surrender gesture and laughed, “No more! You shouldn’t have eaten that one so fast!” The dog huffed as grumpily as a dog could and the two of them headed home in silence. When they made it home, Dan squatted down and buried his fingers in the matted fur behind Cujo’s ears. “See you tomorrow night?” The dog barked and gently headbutted his forehead. Dan took that as confirmation and stood up to watch the dog wander off before heading up to bed himself.
That night for the first time in years Dan dreamt of the familiar blue eyes that had watched him all his life.
Dan would love to say that he loved his job as “that computer guy” over at Longcrier & Associates. He would love to say that there was nothing more satisfying than helping someone work out a tricky problem with their program. He would love to say that when he was helping those hotshot lawyers they were all patient and attentive and when he wasn’t they were polite and respectful. Dan would love to say that he didn’t spend every minute he was at work trying to figure out how he could burn the building down and wondering if he shouldn’t just stay inside after he set the fire. Dan would love to say all that and more.
But that would be a damn lie.
“I am so glad it’s Friday,” Dan moaned, sitting down and smacking his forehead down on the marble counter of the receptionist’s desk on his floor. He rather regretted his decision to do so but honestly couldn’t be bothered enough to sit up and rub the pain away.
“Aw, tough day?” Carrie cooed, absently petting the back of his head while she clicked through file after file.
“Warner got another virus today,” he whined. “I don’t know what he’s doing and I honestly don’t want to know, but if he’d just install the antivirus like I tell him to every time this wouldn’t be a problem. I mean, he’d still be surfing porn on company time and property but that’s none of my business.”
“I thought you didn’t know what he was doing, Kermit,” she teased. Dan liked Carrie. He liked her a whole lot. She had a warm, round, inviting face and warm, round, inviting eyes that always held a mischievous glitter that Dan had fallen in love with. She had more hair than Dan would ever know what to do with that surrounded her face like a halo of tight brown curls. She was kind and considerate but had a tongue as sharp as a whip and she always listened when Dan felt like bitching about his job. Like now.
“I don’t know what kind of porn he’s watching, but when a virus makes pop-ups that say ‘Big Dick Mondays’ and play obnoxious moaning it’s a pretty safe bet that it came from a porn site,” he said matter-of-factly, sitting up and tilting his head to get her to scratch behind his ear. He vacantly wondered if this was how Cujo felt when he got scratched. If it was he might start seriously considering life as a dog. Maybe Carrie would take him in if he was cute enough.
This pulled Carrie away from her file search and she gaped at him with wide eyes and a wider grin. “Did it really?”
Dan nodded. “It was one of those times when I really wished he was in a cubicle instead of a nice soundproof office. Hey, if I suddenly turned into a cute dog would you adopt me?”
“Only if you promise not to chase the two cats I already have and not be as obnoxiously large as you are in human form. Why?”
“I’m considering a change in careers. You give good scratches.”
“Good to know that’s the reason you talk to me,” she said flatly, but the corners of her mouth were quirked up.
Dan gasped with mock offense. “Not true! You sometimes bring me cookies and muffins, too.”
“Get out of here, you dork!” she laughed. “Don’t you have a flower shop to slave away at?”
“Nope!” he grinned. “Mrs. D is off being her magical flower goddess self in Sheffield today and tomorrow, so all I have to do is drop by to make sure it hasn’t burned to the ground or been robbed. I’ll have three nights in a row free,” he added proudly. “Who knows, maybe I’ll go out and do something.”
“Or maybe you’ll sit at home playing video games and trying to figure out how to get that dog of yours into your apartment.”
Dan glared sourly at her while she hid her giggles behind a stack of paper she’d picked up from her desk. “See if I invite you on my adventures this weekend,” he sniffed. He wondered if there was a way to signal to her that he really wanted her to keep scratching him without looking like a freak.
“Adventures?” Carrie asked sharply, all trace of playfulness gone. “What adventures?”
Dan cocked a brow at her and said, “I’m not sure yet. I was thinking I might go to a pub or something.” She looked genuinely startled and concerned and more than a little upset. He tried very hard not to think too much about the way Mrs. Delilah’s goodbye had been more akin to one you’d give a loved one on their deathbed rather than a part-time employee you were leaving behind for a weekend. “Why?” He failed.
Carrie laughed with obviously forced nonchalance. It definitely set off every “Be suspicious of me!” warning bell in Dan’s head. “Oh, no reason. Just curious. It’s not every day my little internet addict leaves his web cave.”
“Right,” Dan said, drawing out the “i” slightly. He stood and started slowly towards the door. “You know, I think I’m pretty much done here for the day, I’m gonna head on over to Mrs. D’s. I’ll see you Monday. I guess.”
“Wait! I’ll walk with you!”
He put both his hands up in a placating gesture and quickly said, “No, no. It’s fine. Just do your thing. I’ll text you or something this weekend. Maybe we can meet up.”
“Yeah. Sure, Dan. I-I’ll see you later.” She looked at him like he was headed to the gallows. Dan walked away quickly.
He quickly made his way down to the lobby, taking care not to meet anyone’s eyes (not that that was remarkably difficult, seeing as pretty much everyone but Carrie tended to ignore him unless he was helping with a specific problem) until he was back on the street, hunched over in pain and taking in deep breaths of dirty London air. Panting, he made a note to either start running like he’d been planning to for years or never run down the stairs no matter how uncomfortable Carrie made him. He was pretty sure he was about to cough up a lung.
“‘ey, mate, this your dog?”
Wheezing, he looked up to see Mark, the front desk manager, with his hands buried in the matted fur on Cujo’s neck. “Yeah, well, not really. I mean- How’d you know?”
“This crazy bastard,” Mark explained, nodding to the dog, “showed up ‘ere round abouts ten or so minutes ago. Tried to get ‘im to move on, seein’ as ‘e was makin’ the clients nervous, but ‘e wouldn’t budge a bit. Kept growlin’ at me every time I tried to shoo ‘im off, but the instant you come bustin’ out like the guard’s on your tail ‘e jus’ about leaps on you. I ‘ad to grab ‘im like this to keep ‘im still and ‘e’s behavin’ like a gem now that you’re ‘ere. If ‘e’s not yours, you mind callin’ whoever is and gettin’ ‘em to take ‘im ‘ome?”
“He’s not anybody’s,” Dan said, cocking his head. “He’s a stray that follows me home from the flower shop that I work at. I honestly have no idea how he showed up here though, I’ve never brought him here.”
“Strong noses, dogs ‘ave,” Mark said sagely. “Prob’ly followed your scent. I’m gonna let ‘im loose now, you got ‘im?”
And with that, Mark released Cujo who sedately trotted to Dan’s left side and licked his hand like always. Mark shook his head in amazement. “You should’ve seen ‘im before. Thought ‘e was gonna rip my ‘ead off. Snarlin’ ‘n’ growlin’ the way ‘e was.”
“Yeah,” Dan said distractedly, looking down at where Cujo was still licking him.
Even Mark noticed. “You normally feed ‘im or somethin’?”
“Yeah, but he doesn’t normally do it this much.” As if he knew he was being talked about, Cujo pulled his tongue back in his mouth and looked at Dan with wide blue eyes.
“Looks like ‘e bit you!”
Dan whipped his hand up to his face, eyes wide. He hadn’t felt anything, but sure enough, there was a set of teeth marks on the skin of his hand. Weirder still, they were white - almost silver - like a scar that’d been there for years.
“I-I’m not sure what that is,” he muttered, staring intently at the marks.
Mark had obviously lost interest by this time, and was already headed back inside with a careless wave over his shoulder. “Whatever, mate. Jus’ know that I’m callin’ animal control next time ‘e shows up ‘round ‘ere growlin’ like some demon dog.”
Dan shook his head. Ever since his conversation with Mrs. Delilah last night he’d felt off and that feeling had increased exponentially since then, and now he really just wanted to go home. “C’mon, Cujo,” he sighed. “We need to go check on the shop, then I’m going home. I’m afraid I don’t have anything for you tonight.” Cujo whined and headbutted his thigh in what Dan deemed a manner that translated to “apology accepted.” With that they started down the street.
But this was made very hard by Cujo as he decided that it was imperative that he walk directly beside Dan. Several times Dan tried stepping away so he wouldn’t step on the dog or trip, but every time Cujo made a deep rumbling in his chest that had never before been directed at Dan and resumed his post. “Would you just move over?” Dan snapped, using his leg to shove the giant away in his frustration. Apparently this was a mistake, as Cujo turned on him with a dark snarl and snapped at him, lips curled up over long teeth menacingly.
Both of them froze. Dan’s eyes widened comically as he stared down at the dog who looked just as shocked as he was. Never in three years had Dan ever felt scared to be around Cujo, but now he was carefully backing away, hands held up. This time he wasn’t laughing or signalling that he didn’t have food. Cujo whined pitifully and dropped down to press his chest against the sidewalk, blinking his huge blue eyes up at Dan apologetically. But the damage was already done.
“St-Stay,” Dan stuttered, trying his best to sound commanding. Cujo whimpered and tried to scoot forwards a bit. “I mean it!” Dan warned, backing down the street. “You- You just stay right there.” With that he turned and - for the second time that day - ran away from someone he trusted.
“God, it’s just a dog, Dan, get a grip,” he muttered to himself as he unlocked the door to the flower shop. But he wasn’t just a dog, he argued, rubbing his chest like that would ease the sting of betrayal that was nestled tightly around his heart. Over the years Dan hadn’t had much stability in his life, and it was comforting to have something that was. In fact, he mused as he absently clipped the dead blooms from the plants, he had probably talked to Cujo more in the past three years than anyone else ever. Considering he spent ten minutes with him six days a week or more (sometimes he’d get bored on Sundays and canine company is better than no company) he supposed it made sense. And now, after all that time, Cujo almost bites him? It didn’t make any sense and it hurt his head to think about. Maybe Cujo was just having a bad day, he reasoned. It had been a weird couple of days and he’d been pretty sensitive, so he probably overreacted.
Could dogs get stressed out? he wondered, sweeping up the small bit of dirt he’d knocked on the floor earlier. If they could, that’s probably what was wrong with Cujo. He was pretty sure the stray lived around either his apartment complex or the flower shop so he’d look for him tomorrow. He could even bring a turkey and peanut butter sandwich as a peace offering.
This decided, Dan locked up and stepped out onto the street with a smile on his face. As soon as he locked the back door, a gust of freezing wind barreled down the alley, freezing him to the bone, which was extremely odd seeing as his birthday was just under a week ago so it should have been warm at the very least. He hopefully looked around for that familiar mop of fur but wasn’t surprised to see an empty street.
Well, mostly empty. Down on the actual street someone – a very tall someone, taller than him – in a baggy hoodie was leaning up against a lamp post. Dan had never seen them before, which was admittedly odd, but they didn’t seem to be doing any harm so with a shrug he ignored them and started home. They, however, didn’t ignore him and as soon as he walked past them their head snapped up and Dan could have sworn he heard them sniff. He shot them a confused glance but continued on his way. They were probably drunk, he reasoned. Or maybe he smelled like flowers from the shop and they had a really powerful nose. Either way, it wouldn’t be the weirdest thing that could happen in London.
What could be the weirdest thing was how empty the street was. Granted, Miss Delilah’s Dahlias wasn’t downtown by any stretch of the imagination, but even when Dan left at midnight on a Wednesday (he accidentally dropped a pot of soil and in the process of cleaning that mess he knocked over a plant. It wasn’t exactly a great night for him) there were several people with their eyes glued to their phone screens walking with purpose down the street. They might not talk to him, but he suddenly missed their presence now that he was alone with Hoodie who apparently liked to sniff passerby.
And follow them Dan realized with a shudder. He’d been hearing the echoingly loud pitter-patter of oddly stuttery footsteps behind him for some time now. Maybe they’re just headed in the same direction. Oh, and they decided to leave exactly when I did? Yes? Oh, god, I’m going to die. He was so focused on his impending doom that he didn’t notice when he turned onto the back alley that would lead him home. This was his first mistake.
A cold, leathery hand slapped over his mouth and nose as a strong arm snaked around his waist and pulled him back against a hard chest. Dan stiffened and clenched his fists. Oh god, this is even worse than I imagined he thought desperately, screwing his eyes shut tight. Hot breath curled over the back of his neck and he tried to swallow down the bile that was stinging the back of his throat. “I’ve been waiting a long time for you, Danny,” an oily voice cooed in his ear. “Twenty very, very long years I‘ve waited.” The voice was high pitched, sharp and cold like a hammer striking ice, but the weirdest part was the clicking. With every breath they took a muffled clack sounded directly in Dan’s ear. “Do you know why I want you, Danny?”
“No,” Dan whispered, refusing to let the tears building behind his eyes fall. “I have no idea what you could possibly want me for.”
The owner of the voice pulled him in tighter and chuckled. Dan gritted his teeth. How dare they laugh at him? Wasn’t what they were doing bad enough?
“I’ve been waiting so long for you to get just ripe enough,” they cooed in his ear. “I was almost out of time, too; my kind don’t live very long, you see. This was my last night to get you and lucky me, you banished the only one that could save you. And you ignored the charm that witch you work for tried to get you to cast.” A cold hand danced across Dan’s chest and dove into his jacket pocket. “And look,” they simpered, holding up a small scrap of paper in their palm, right in front of Dan’s nose, “she even tried to ward me off with a sigil.” As the last word rolled off their tongue the paper burst into flames, causing Dan to flinch in fright.
Someone help me, please, Dan thought desperately. He tried to shout it but every time he opened his mouth invisible fingers stole the words from his tongue. He suddenly wished Cujo was there. Maybe the dog wouldn’t be able to do much, but at least he’d have a friendly face to see just before he died. Then he realized how sad it was that his dying wish was to see a dog he’d sent away not an hour before.
You banished the only one that could save you.
The words echoed through Dan’s head. For a moment he actually considered calling out to the dog, but he realized that would be a little too B-Movie-esque to be possible. Do people in movies realize they’re in movies? he wondered, determined to focus on anything but the cold voice still whispering in his ear. Was it really worth it not to at least try something that only worked in movies on the assumption that he wasn’t in a movie? And if he was in a movie then maybe he’d actually get out of this alive. With that last thought he took in a deep breath and prepared to scream at the top of his lungs.
The person behind him froze. “You shouldn’t be able to speak,” they hissed. “Who’s Cujo?”
As if in answer to the question a snarl sounded from the end of the alley and both Dan and the other person whipped their heads around just in time to see a giant black dog take a long arm between powerful jaws and sharp teeth and rip it away from Dan’s waist. The owner of the arm screamed in pain while Dan stumbled away and fell to the ground next to a nearby wall. Cujo took up a protective stance between Dan and the other person and growled deeper and more menacing than Dan would have ever thought possible.
But Dan was far too focused on the other - was person even the right word to use here? - in the alley. In their struggle with Cujo their hood had fallen down, revealing their face for the first time.
And what a face it was, the skin was a fluorescent purple and was cracked and gouged like leather left too long in the sun. Above the mandibles that framed their mouth (Dan supposed that explained the clicking in their voice) six shiny black eyes glinted menacingly. “How are you here?” they hissed furiously. “He banished you; I watched him do it!”
“He summoned me,” Cujo answered. It spoke volumes that Dan was more shocked to hear that his dog had a charming Northern lilt to its voice than he was that it was speaking in the first place. “He wanted my presence and called the title he dubbed me with.”
“The ‘title he dubbed you with’?” the other mocked. “What, has he given you a name like some little pet then? Are you his little puppy?”
In response Cujo stiffened his shoulders before transforming into a man, or something man-like, with clear iridescent wings sprouting from his back. Dan watched as he then leveled a gnarled branch the size of his forearm at the other threateningly . “You know more than any that I am more than my appearances.”
The purple thing snarled and dropped into a fighting stance. “And you know more than any that I am not so easily intimidated by your silly little costume changes. No matter what form you take you are still the weakling who couldn’t keep his own Childe.”
“Then let’s see if you can take this weakling out in a fight,” Cujo taunted. “You haven’t managed it in the past twenty years, but maybe the Lady of the Moon is on your side tonight.”
They both gnashed their teeth in a primal display before leaping at one another. They were flitting back and forth, too quick for Dan to see. Not that it really would have mattered how fast they were going; Dan was far too busy trying to comprehend exactly what was happening. First, he’d been attacked by some strange person on the street who liked to sniff people except they weren’t actually a person but a purple bug thing; then, his dog had come to his rescue except it wasn’t actually a dog but a winged man with a stick. It was understandably a little difficult for him to wrap his head around.Suddenly the purple thing let out a painful yelp and backed away from Cujo, hissing angrily.
“I will get him,” they warned. Cujo took up a defensive pose between them and Dan and growled. (Dan may have let out a manic giggle when he noticed how similar the noises were between Cujo’s forms.) He glared at them for a moment before his eyes flew open with realization. The purple thing smirked and melted into the shadow they’d been sneaking towards just as Cujo tackled the air they had been taking up only seconds before.
Cujo viciously kicked the pavement where they had disappeared and muttered some words Dan didn’t understand, but with the way he spat them Dan was pretty sure that they weren’t something he should say in front of Mrs. D if he didn’t want to get smacked. Then Cujo looked up at Dan who was still sat - in a puddle Dan finally noticed with a disgusted shudder - and his face turned gentle.
“Are you okay?” the man asked softly, slowly walking towards Dan, who honestly looked like he would shatter at any sudden movements.
“Wh-where’s my dog?” Dan stuttered, mentally face palming. The first words out of his mouth after being attacked by some crazy thing with mandibles are about his dog. Fantastic.
Cujo - Dan really needed to stop calling him Cujo. This obviously wasn’t Cujo and he probably wouldn’t like being nicknamed after not one but two dogs - nervously fiddled with his hands and looked down guiltily. “My name is Phil,” Not-Cujo-but-Apparently-Phil said, definitely not answering Dan’s question at all but at least solving his “Don’t call the strange man the same thing as your dog” problem.
Phil looked like he would rather answer any question other than that one but he sighed and said, “I’m Cujo.”
Dan blinked at him. “No you’re not,” he said slowly. “Cujo is a giant, black haired dog. You are a giant, black-haired man. I can understand where some confusion might occur but I promise you are not my dog.”
Phil sighed and rolled his eyes like Dan was the unreasonable one in this alley. “Did you or did you not just see me turn from a dog into this?”
“Of course I didn’t,” Dan scoffed. “Hate to break it to you, but humans can’t turn into dogs and dogs can’t turn into humans.”
“Right. Good thing I’m not human, then.”
Dan snorted. “Oh really? And just what are you?”
Phil beamed, obviously proud of himself for steering the conversation in this direction. “I’m a Fairy!”
Dan stiffened. “Look, I think it’s great that you’re reclaiming slurs and all that, but secondary school wasn’t all that much fun for me and I have a bit of negative connotation with that word, so can you not?”
Phil cocked his head and looked really confused for a moment before realization dawned in his eyes. “No! I mean I am literally a Fairy. Capital ‘F.’ A member of the Fae. You know, wings and magic?” By the end of his little rant he was helplessly flapping his hands around to get his point across.
Dan nodded, pursing his lips to avoid making a scathing remark, and stood and oh gross had his socks gotten wet as well as the seat of his trousers? Perfect. “Riiiiiiiight. That’s nice and all, Ffffffrrrraaa-?”
“That’s what I was saying. Anyway, Phil, but it’s really late so I’m gonna head home and binge watch a season of American Horror Story on Netflix because at least that makes more sense than what just happened here.”
“Oh, good. I’ll come with you!”
“No!” Dan said quickly. “I mean, uh, surely there’s something better for you to do. It’ll probably be really boring.”
“Of course there’s nothing better for me to do,” Phil said like it was the most obvious thing in the world. “There’s nothing more important than protecting you. Tonight is the first full moon after your Quarter Centennial. This is the first time the pixies can touch you, so there’s no way that this was their sole attempt for the night.”
“Phil, I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about, but I think it would be best if you and I just parted ways,” Dan said slowly, looking at the black haired man suspiciously.
Said man looked him and for the second time that night Dan was met with blue eyes full of betrayal. “I-I mean, if you don’t want me,” he said sadly. “I’m sure I can find somewhere to sleep tonight.”
Damn it, it so wasn’t fair that Phil could pull off puppy dog eyes literally and figuratively. “Fine, I guess you can come,” Phil somehow managed to look even more excited about this than even the fluffernutter sandwich Dan had given him last week, “but you have to promise not to be too weird. That means no turning into animals or brandishing sticks or flashing your wings around.”
“It’s a wand,” Phil corrected. Dan would have normally laughed himself silly at how offended the other man was but now really wasn’t the time. “And what if I need to use magic to fight off another Pixie?”
“Then I guess you’ll just have to fight them off bare handed, won’t you?” Dan said sarcastically.
Phil nodded somberly. “That is acceptable. Would it not be easier if I were an animal, though?” No sooner than the words were out of his mouth then he turned himself into a kitten and meowed before letting out an adorable little sneeze. Dan did not have to fight the urge to coo. Shut up.
“No, no animal transformations necessary,” Dan said quickly. Phil turned back red-eyed and rubbing his sniffling nose. “What’s wrong with you?”
“I’m allergic to cats.”
It had taken a good five minutes to convince Phil not to turn into any type of animal to sneak into the building and that he was perfectly welcome in this form and even longer to convince him that Mrs. Martha wasn’t a pixie just an old lady who enjoyed purple facials and sticking her nose in other people’s business when they were making a ruckus in the hall. All in all Dan was quite exhausted when he finally made it up to his room and was thus not in the mood to watch American Horror Story and far more interested in falling face-first on his bed and hoping that next time he woke up all this was a seriously messed up dream. To be fair, he had eaten an entire box of Maltesers before bed the previous night and there was no documented scientific evidence stating what effect chocolate had on dreams. It was a perfectly reasonable explanation for the day’s events.
“Daaaaaaannnn,” Phil whined, “come oooooonnn. I want to watch Freakshow. Get out of bed, you lazy oaf!”
“Watch it yourself,” Dan mumbled. “I’m tired. I’ll log on to my laptop if you want.”
“There’s no use in watching it if I can’t watch it with you,” Phil pouted. “You’re the most important part of any show-watching.” Dan desperately tried to ignore the butterflies that fluttered in his stomach at the other man’s admission. Despite the fact that he knew the person saying it was a likely crazy person who used to be his dog and was probably just part of a very vivid dream, it felt nice to be that important to someone.
“Fine,” he groaned, burying his face in his pillow for a second before letting out a sigh. “But I need to change clothes first; I’m not sitting around in soggy trousers if I’m not trying to ignore and entire evening.”
“Perfect!” Phil beamed. “You can wear these!” With that he tossed a pair of Pokemon tracksuit bottoms and the hoodie he got as a souvenir for surviving (and paying for) his one year at Manchester University. Dan sat up and shrugged; that would work.
He coughed nervously when he noticed Phil was still looking at him with the same expectant look he’d given him when he knew there was a peanutbutter sandwich in Dan’s pocket with his name on it and Dan honestly wasn’t sure if he’d ever get over the fact that the man standing before him had been his dog for three years holy shit. “Are you going to- You know?” he gestured at the door.
When Phil just looked blankly at him he huffed and added, “Would you mind leaving the room for a second?”
Phil cocked his head to the side. “Why?”
“I’m not getting changed with you gawking at me like some kind of zoo exhibit!”
“It’s not like I haven’t seen it before,” Phil shrugged. “I’ve been watching over you since you were five.”
“Excuse me?” Dan squawked. “You watched a five year old change?”
Phil crossed his arms in exasperation, but there were spots of pink high on his sharp cheekbones. “I’ll never understand why humans view the naked form to hold so much sexual implications. Nakedness is your natural state.”
“Well, isn’t nakedness your natural state?” Dan snapped. “I don’t see you whipping off your clothes any time soon.”
Phil flushed darker. “That is so not the point!”
“It’s exactly the point!” Dan argued, a grin forming on his face with absolutely zero permission. “I think the problem is that you’re a voyeur and not an exhibisionist!”
“Dan! I- You! That’s completely ridiculous!”
Dan leaned forward so that his elbows were resting on his knees. “Nope. I’ve got you pinned. Phil: the Little Voyeur That Could. Peeping Tom has new competition. Phil’s looking in all the windows.”
By this point Phil was redder than Dan’s hoodie and Dan’s cheeks were beginning to hurt. He couldn’t remember smiling this widely in years; he was out of practice. “Don’t worry, Phil. This is a no-judgement space: you can feel free to share all of your creeper tendencies and weird kinks with me.”
“I am not having this conversation with you!” Phil sputtered. “I will be in the lounge if you need me!” With that he turned sharply on his heel and stormed out of the room.
Dan positively howled with laughter, knowing full well that Phil (and possibly every last one of his neighbors) could hear him through the thin walls. When he heard Phil’s muffled “Shut up!” shouted from a couple rooms away he brought a fist to his mouth to stifle the last of his giggles and started getting dressed.
A few minutes later he softly padded into the lounge where Phil was sprawled out on the couch, summoning and popping bubbles with little flicks of his wand. Dan supposed it was about time for a happy element to come into his dream. “I thought I said no magic,” he teased, sitting down next to the other man. Phil guiltily stashed his wand away; Dan didn’t know where he put it but it was out of sight and he honestly didn’t want to know.
They sat there in a decently comfortable silence until Phil cocked his head to look at him and said, “I’m surprised you haven’t bombarded me with questions yet. You’ve always been obnoxiously curious and you just found out that there are magical purple bug people after you and that your dog of three years can turn into a Fairy at will. Yet, here you sit, acting like this is just another Friday night for you. What gives?”
Dan casually shrugged as well as he could when sprawled across a couch. “Well, I mean, it’s my dream, so it’s not like anything can hurt me and if there’s anything super important that I need to know I’ll just know it.”
Phil’s jaw dropped. “Dream?” he repeated incredulously. “You think this is a dream, Dan?” He stood up and stared down at the brown haired man. Dan shivered when he felt the air around them drop to about five degrees. “You think I am merely a figment of your imagination? I’ll have you know that I am not something you could create inside your head, Daniel James Howell.”
Dan shifted nervously at the anger that had started to color Phil’s tone. Even when fighting that thing in the alley he had remained calm, almost playful, but now his words were sharp and powerful, like they were doing more than just telling Dan exactly how wrong he was. “There’s no way this isn’t a dream, though,” Dan argued, shaking his head furiously. “Everyone has been out of character. Everything that’s happened tonight has been impossible! I know it!”
Phil’s face softened when he noticed the younger man trembling. He really should have known not to push Dan too far too fast but the very thought that Dan didn’t believe in him hurt more than he cared to admit. He carefully knelt down in front of him so that he could meet those brown eyes he’d known for twenty years. “You know what else you know?” he said gently. “You know that mirrors and books and phones don’t work in dreams. You know that time doesn’t flow normally in dreams like it has today. You know that you have extra fingers when you dream. Come on, Dan, count with me.” He softly held Dan’s hand in his and held up one finger. “One.” Another.
“T-Two,” Dan croaked. “Three… Four… F-Five.”
“You’re not dreaming, Dan,” Phil whispered.
Dan stared down at his five fingers before he wrenched them out of Phil’s grasp, jerkily withdrawing as far from Phil as he could. “What are you?” he spat, glaring at Phil with pure terror in his eyes. “What the hell is going on?” His breath hitched harshly and he froze. Shit, please not right now he thought desperately. Not right now.
“Dan? Dan what’s wrong?”
Great, Phil had noticed. That just made everything perfect. “Sorry,” he gasped out, squeezing his eyes shut hard enough to make little tears pearl up in the corners of his eyes. “I’ll- I’ll be fine. Just - fuck - just give me a minute.” That was a damn lie. He wasn’t going to be okay. He couldn’t fucking breathe. Every time he sucked air into his lungs they seized and squeezed tighter letting in less and less. Fuck he was going to die in his own god damn apartment in front of some strange fairy because he couldn’t do something as simple as breathing. God, what the fuck, Dan a voice hissed in his head. Pull yourself together. But he couldn’t and the voice knew it. He was just a mess of a fuck up and he couldn’t do anything -
“Dan? Can you hear me?”
Another voice? He was used to just the one, but this one was rougher than his own, kinder. Not that you deserve it. You’re just a waste of space and a burden to everyone you know. Nobody shows that much attention to a worthless thing like you.
“Dan. listen to me. It’s okay. Everything will be all right.”
“Nothing will hurt you. You’re safe. I’ve got you.”
Dan shook his head. How could anyone think he was safe? He was being hunted down by purple bug creatures and a man with wings was standing in his lounge watching him collapse inwards. In what possible way was any of this okay?
“Dan, I’m going to put your ear on my chest so you can feel me breathe. Can you try to breathe with me?”
Gentle hands were on Dan’s shoulders, guiding him forward. He stiffened at first until they started soothing stroking motions. You’re okay. I’m here. It was the gentle voice again, somehow drowning out his usual companion. With a deep sigh he pitched forward until the whole left side of his face was pressed close to a warm wall. As he stayed there for a moment he began to notice the wall moving in and out in a slow, steady manner. Ignoring the hitches and thickness in his throat, he matched his breaths to the movement.
“That’s good, Dan. You’re doing such a good job.”
Warmth blossomed in his chest at the praise and turned his head so his entire face was buried in the thing he knew in the back of his head was a chest. Fingers slowly made their way into his hair and began to pet it, catching slightly on knots before gently untangling them.
“Dan, can you do something for me? Can you tell me the colors of the rainbow?”
He took in a deep shuddery breath. “Red.”
“That’s right, Dan. What comes next?”
“Good job, Dan. Can you keep going?”
“Yellow… Green… B-Blue… Indigo… Violet.”
“That’s perfect, Dan. You did a wonderful job. Can you tell me what your favorite color is?”
He let out a huge sigh. He’d done it right. He did okay. “Black.”
“Black is a good color. Black is all over the place, so I can see why you like it. Can you tell me something that’s black?”
“That’s right. There are black birds. There are also red birds. Red is a nice color, too. What do you know of that’s red?”
There was something about that voice. That soft, rambling voice that he never wanted to disappoint ever. He shakily lifted the sleeve of his jumper to answer the question.
“Good job, Dan. I’m going to ask you to do something now, is that okay?”
He nodded, rubbing his face on the shirt in front of him.
“Can you lift your head and open your eyes? Can you look at me?”
He stiffened. He didn’t know if he could do that. He was safe here, what if everything was just as awful as before when he opened his eyes? His breath began to pick up again and he balled his hands into tight fists to feel his nails dig into his palms. He shook his head. He had failed. Something as simple as lifting his own head and he was too scared to do it.
“Dan, it’s okay. I know it’s scary. You can take however long you want. You’re doing a good job. Can you breathe with me again?”
One of the hands in his hair moved south, passing over his neck without touching it, to draw shapes on his back while the other one continued to play with his hair, which was now curling ever so slightly. Slowly, he matched their breathing again. All the while that voice was talking softly in his ear, praising him, telling him what a good job he was doing. It drowned out the harsh voice that told him all those negative thoughts and that was always a good thing. Slowly, he lifted his head and cracked open his eyes to see a pair of sparkling blue eyes and a blinding smile shining down at him.
“There you are,” Phil beamed at him. “You okay?”
Dan took a deep breath to asses himself before he nodded. He wouldn’t classify himself as “okay” but he wasn’t panicking anymore. He sat up straight and rubbed his face to rub any tear tracks off his cheeks before he asked, “Okay, what exactly is going on? I need to know because I don’t think I can handle too many more surprises tonight.”
“Are you sure you want to talk about this right away?” Phil asked cautiously. “Would you rather get some food or something? Or you can just go to bed and we’ll talk about this in the morning.”
“You want to know what I want to do? Honestly?” Phil nodded eagerly. “Honestly I’d like nothing more than to stuff myself full of pizza, fall face-first into my bed and stay there for the rest of the weekend while I pretend that none of this happened.” Phil looked ready to hop up and summon an entire pizzeria so Dan quickly continued. “But that’s not possible. As much as I wish I could say ‘fuck it’ and go back to my life as normal, I can’t. Tonight I was attacked by someone for some unknown reason and I found out my dog is a fairy who has been watching me for twenty years. I need to know what’s going on, and one way or another I’m going to find out and when I find out, I’m probably going to lose it again like I just did. Now, I’d rather get any and all panic attacks out of the way now while I’m still tired rather than wait until I feel better and make myself feel horrible again, what do you think?”
Phil anxiously ran his fingers through his fringe (giving himself a rather impressive quiff) before he let out a sigh of defeat. “I think we’re going to need lots of pizza and alcohol.”
Chapter 3: Part Two
You know, Dan had heard some outlandish stories in his time. He was on the internet, after all. He had read tales taller than Everest involving a lot of alcohol, some weed and not one but two life sized great white shark models. His roommate up in Manchester named Chess had definitely Seen Some Shit and he was always happy to regale Dan with stories of his misadventures like the time he’d gotten out of a speeding ticket with a piece of cheese. So, yeah. Dan was very familiar with ridiculous. He could handle just about anything at this point.
This was not ridiculous, though. This was insane.
And Dan was not handling it well.
“So, let me get this straight,” he almost squeaked. He didn’t squeak, though. Certainly not. “You are a Fairy who kidnapped me when I was five so you could turn me into one? But then my mom’s search party found me so I didn’t get to stay and now I’m, what, a half-fairy?”
“No, you have the Mark of the Fae,” Phil said, his attention far more focused on not dripping tomato sauce on his shirt than it was on the conversation. Red spattered on his shirt, standing out brilliantly against the bright blue canvas; Dan had to admit he was pleased. Fruitlessly dabbing at his shirt with a napkin, Phil continued, “Having the Mark is just a sign that you’ve been to and accepted by the Realm of the Fae. Usually, the only humans who can visit the Realm are children - hence the reason I got you when you were young - but if an adult has already made it past the gates once, they are free to come and go. At least I hope.” Scowling down at the growing, now smeared, red spot in frustration, he whipped out his wand and jabbed it, causing it to vanish; Dan had to admit he was disappointed.
“Okay, and this Mark makes me a target?” Dan asked for about the twentieth time that night. “And that Fairy that attacked us-”
“Pixie!” Phil corrected, bristling in offence. “I am a Fairy. That thing was nothing more than a shadow of what I am and what I can do.”
“But you said the Mark attracted members of the Fae,” Dan argued.
“Okay, look. There are lots of different types of Fae People,” Phil sighed rubbing his forehead. “Just like how Americans and British people aren’t the same, even though they’re both humans from Earth.”
Dan rolled his eyes but relented. “Okay, fine. The Pixie that attacked us was after me because of this?” He held up the back of his hand that proudly displayed the place where Phil had bitten him when he was five what the fuck? “What’s so special about this? What about this makes me any more desirable a snack than anyone else?”
“First off, I didn’t say they’d eat you. We don’t know what they do to the Children they take.” Dan gave him a flat look so he quickly continued on. “Second, you actually weren’t horrifically off-base when you said that the Mark made you ‘half-fairy.’ Under normal circumstances, the Fae cannot touch Mortals without the permission of a Mortal. Going to the Realm changed you, now you are both Mortal and Fae.”
“So I’m like a fairy Hannah Montana?” Dan wrinkled his nose. “I never thought I’d say that.”
“I never want you to say it again,” Phil said helpfully.
Dan rolled his eyes and continued, “Why now, though? Why wait twenty years?”
“The Mark didn’t take full effect until the full moon of your Quarter Centennial. That’s why I was so anxious today, by the way. I really am sorry for snapping at you. I would never deliberately cause you harm.”
“But so that’s it? That’s why I’m being chased down to have some unknown, but most definitely bad, thing done to me by some monster from a children’s book? All because you messed up twenty years ago?”
Phil looked down and away from Dan and his growing fury, his shoulders hunched in self defense. “Yes,” he said shortly. He looked up at Dan and hot anger brightened his eyes. “Yes, Dan, because I’m such a failure you are in danger. Glad we got that sorted.” Then he turned back away and muttered, so quietly that Dan wasn’t sure that he was meant to hear it. “I should have just turned in my wings to the Elder years ago.”
Dan bit his lip and stared down at his lap. He wanted to be mad at Phil - he really did. The guy was the reason he was probably going to get murdered, after all - but when he was sitting there beating himself up it was hard not to think about the fact that he was also, technically, his best friend. With Phil looking all sad Dan couldn’t help but think back on all those peanut butter and turkey sandwiches and winter nights when his heater was broken so he snuck in the giant dog and they cuddled for warmth. Actually, that last one had a slightly (actually very) creepy tint to it now that he knew his dog was a perfectly sentient man with wings, but as they say, no pet is perfect.
“Well, is there any way to fix this, or will you just have to be my furry body guard for life? I mean, it looks like I’m stuck with this for good, yeah? It’s not like there’s someone who can just magic it away, right?” he asked to distract Phil from his self-flagellation. “If you want, I can switch from calling you Cujo to Phil and you can use your magic to get up here every night. I think it’d be cool to have a flatmate. I’ve always lived alone since I left my mum, and even then towards the end it was like living alone because she was always out all the time. I’m not sure how great of a flatmate I’ll be though. I mean, most of the time I stay up until around four in the morning and I’m pretty much always running late, but if you’ve known me for literally twenty years you probably already know all this and I-” He cut himself off when he realized he’d been rambling and that Phil looked to be thinking so hard that he probably didn’t hear him anyways. A plus, Daniel, he thought sarcastically. A plus.
“You know, I think there might actually be a way to fix this!” Phil exclaimed, leaping up and beaming widely at Dan. Dan was torn between relief that Phil hadn’t heard him and annoyance that Phil hadn’t listened to him. “There actually is someone who can magic it off! Come with me!” He reached forward and grabbed Dan’s wrist and yanked him to his feet and dragging him towards the door. “I can’t believe I didn’t think of this before!”
“Fff-Phil! Hold up!” Dan exclaimed, digging his heels into the ground. It honestly wasn’t doing much good - Phil might have mentioned something about super strength in his explanation earlier. He was too busy freaking out over the existence of Fairies to pay much attention - but it made him feel better about this aspect of the situation at least. “Where are we going? Who’s helping us? Phil!”
“We’re going back to the Land of the Fae,” Phil explained, his wings fluttering in distracting excitement. “The Elder can help. Well, I’m assuming they can help. This has never exactly happened before so I’m kind of winging it.” He winked and flashed his wings in the bright light just in case Dan had missed his pun. He hadn’t.
Brown eyes narrowed in suspicion. “What do you mean you’re ‘assuming they can help’? Who are these people, anyway?”“One singular person, actually,” Phil corrected. “Well, not so much a person as an entity. No one has ever seen the Elder, we just know they exist. And I say assume because I have no evidence that says one way or another. They may remove the Mark or you may wind up trapped there. Not really sure either way.”
Dan’s jaw hung open and he gawped at the eager fairy in shock. “You’re not sure?” he shrieked. “You want to just drag me to some magical realm on the off chance that this ‘entity’” he put finger quotes around the word to show his disdain, “that you have never even seen before might be able to help? And if they can’t, oh well? At least we tried. Sure, Dan’s trapped in bloody Wonderland away from all his friends and family and life, but we gave it our best shot and that’s what matters.”
Phil winced with every shrill sentence and put his hands up to try and placate the fuming man before him. “Dan you’re being unreasonable-”
“Unreasonable? I’ll show you unreasonable!”
“Listen!” Dan snapped his mouth shut and glared, but at least now he was glaring quietly. “Look, I know it’s risky, okay? But what other choice do we have? You don’t want to be taken by the pixies, and I don’t want to have to follow you around for the rest of your life.” As that last word tumbled without thought, he wished he could snatch them back and swallow them whole, but he can’t, and he realized this as Dan’s face hardened and cooled like forged steel in a bucket of ice water. “Dan, I didn’t mean-”
“Oh no, I understand,” Dan said easily but a sickly sweet poison like antifreeze laced his words. “I know exactly what you mean. I’m honestly surprised you stuck around this long, I know I wouldn’t. Don’t worry about it, Phil, I mean, it’s not like it’s your fault or anything. I’ll take care of myself; as you’ve seen I’ve gotten quite good at it over the past twenty years. You can go home now.”
“Dan, no. Please listen-”
“Go.” The word was said with such cold hostility that even the swirling colors in Phil’s wings froze. “I don’t want you here.”
Then, with one last longing stare, Phil vanished. With a deep sigh Dan drug a hand roughly down his face and flopped back down on the couch. God what an asshole, he thought viciously. I mean, it’s not like I asked for this. And he just wanted me to go on some wild goose chase because he thought it might help, with absolutely no concern about what would happen to me if his plan didn’t pan out. “And he even had the audacity to look hurt when I kicked him out,” he complained to his ceiling. “What a jerk.” Realizing he was talking to inanimate objects (again), he rubbed his eyes fiercely and pulled out his phone to check the time. 2:46. It wasn’t the latest he’d ever stayed up (to be quite honest this was actually pretty early for him) but, he reasoned, he’d had a bit of a rough day, so there was no shame in heading to bed and staying there for the next two days.
While changing into his sleep clothes, he caught a flash of movement from the corner of his eye. Yesterday, hell a few hours ago, he would have completely brushed it off as him being tired and or paranoid, but now he knew the truth. “I thought I told you to leave me alone.”
“Technically, you didn’t tell him to leave you alone, but fortunately for me his kind are too polite to be able to take advantage of loopholes.”
Dan froze with his hoodie still hung up around his head. He was pretty sure he’d be able to recognize that voice for the rest of his life, but there was no way he’d forget that cold clacking mere hours after it’d hissed in his ear. “Aw, you remember me,” they cooed, and Dan shivered, desperately pulling his jacket down to look into those beady black eyes as their owner leaned casually against his doorframe.
“What are you doing here?” Dan snarled, finding bravery he most definitely didn’t possess in the residual anger Phil had left him with. “You melted, I watched you do it.”
Dan was pretty sure bugs couldn’t roll their eyes, but the thing - Pixie! a voice that sounded unhelpfully like Phil’s chimed in his head - managed to do it as they heaved themselves to a proper standing position and started their slow walk towards where Dan was still frozen. “I don’t know if you’re just stalling or if you really know that little, but I honestly don’t care.”
Dan took a quick moment to be offended - he had just been introduced to this world, after all. How was he supposed to know that people didn’t die when they melted? - before remembering that there was a highly dangerous magical creature stalking toward him with malicious intent. He walked backwards step for step with the Pixie and opened his mouth to call for Phil (he may be mad at the guy but he wasn’t going to die because he was too proud to ask for help) but the word was strangled on his tongue, leaving him opening and closing his mouth like some sad little fish.
“Do you really think I’m just going to let you call for your little pet again?” the Pixie laughed, causing Dan to shiver at the eerie sound. “Not likely. This is my last night on this miserable little plane of existence and there’s no way I’m letting that meddlesome Fairy ruin this for me.” When Dan opened his mouth again they added, “And don’t even bother using that other name you have for him. I don’t easily forget.”
Well, just fuck me, then Dan thought bitterly. You’d think he’d have learned from the last time he’d banished Phil from his side, but no. The window! the unhelpfully helpful voice suggested. He hesitated for a moment - there was no way he’d ever be able to get away from this thing - but decided that it’d be better to die on the fire escape running away than in his room just twiddling his thumbs. He carefully inched towards the window, praying to whatever deities would listen (hadn’t Phil mentioned a Lady of the Moon?) that his hunter wouldn’t notice. Fortunately, they seemed to be so absorbed in relishing the moment that they weren’t actually paying him any attention. With one last moment to be grateful that the yearly heatwave had prompted him to open his window, he leapt out into the night.
And landed on his ass in some wet grass, feeling like a truck had hit him and then gleefully backed up to do it again. Frantic hands were patting his cheeks and an even more frantic, but comfortingly familiar voice was calling his name. “Dan? Dan, can you hear me? Oh, god, Phil, I think I killed him. I knew I wasn’t ready for this. Dan?”
“Carrie, it’s okay. He’s fine, just a little disoriented, I can still feel him.” Dan narrowed his eyes (well he did in his head. In real life his eyes were still scrunched up in pain) at that familiar Northern voice.
Groaning with the effort it took, he blinked his eyes open to see a warm, round, inviting face peering down at him, the bottom lip bitten between white teeth instead of twitching into a smile and the brown eyes sparkling with concern instead of mischief. “Carrie?”
“Oh goddess above, you’re okay!” she cried before pulling him close to her chest. “I was so worried I had killed you. Mrs. D and I never got past the theoretical when it comes to portals and transportation spells.”
Dan sputtered insensibly, his lingering pain and sudden confusion working together quite nicely to rob him of any form of speech. “Spells? Portals? Mrs. D?”
Carrie pulled back and bit her lip, looking far too much like a kid who had been caught shoving peanut butter sandwiches into the VCR player. (Not that he had any experience with that. Nope, not at all.) “I’m guessing Phil didn’t quite get to that part of the explanation?”
Dan glared at Phil like he was the reason Carrie was acting all finicky and weird. To be fair there wasn’t any proof that he wasn’t and far too much circumstantial evidence saying he was. “No, I’m afraid he didn’t. Care to explain, Phil?”
The fairy winced, obviously understanding that he wasn’t exactly in Dan’s good graces. “Mrs. Delilah is a witch and Carrie is her apprentice?” he tried. “They’ve both been watching over you since Carrie first met you at your interview.”
Dan felt something in his chest deflate. “Ah. Good to know that not one but all three of the important people are here because of your guilty conscience. That’s great,” he said bitterly.
Carrie gasped before throwing her arms around Dan again. “Don’t you dare think that, Daniel James Howell,” she growled fiercely in his ear. “Mrs. D and I care very deeply about you. Phil has nothing to do with that.”
“Mrs. D actually tries to banish me every time she sees me,” Phil piped in. “She doesn’t trust any member of the Fae.”
Dan grinned for the first time in a while as he remembered all the glares and curses Mrs. D had thrown at Cujo every time she saw him. He never really understood - he figured she was just more of a cat person or something - but now he did. “Good. You deserve it.”
Phil hunched his shoulders and kicked the ground where he stood, looking far too much like a scolded puppy for Dan’s liking. Carrie, on the other hand, clucked her tongue in disapproval. “You shouldn’t be quite so mean, Dan,” she said. “He’s trying his best and he’s been doing above and beyond what’s expected for the past twenty years. Give him a bit of a break.”
Now it was Dan’s turn to duck his head under a scolding. “Well, it is his fault,” he couldn’t help but mutter, just to see Phil’s shoulder climb higher towards his ears.
A hand gently cuffed his head. “Don’t you get started on that again. What happened happened, and all we can do is go forward from here.”
“Well, if he hadn’t kidnapped me in the first place-”
“You don’t know how that works at all, do you?” Carrie interrupted, shaking her head. “Dan, Phil didn’t just kidnap you randomly. He got you-”
“Let’s talk about something else!” Phil blurted loudly, quite effectively bringing attention to himself. He’d been so quiet that Dan had almost forgotten that he was there. That was actually a lie, he admitted silently to himself. For whatever reason, he’d always been hyper aware of where Phil was at all times, even as a dog, and it had only increased since he’d landed in the field. Sorry about that the Phil voice in his head said guiltily. We’ll get rid of it once we remove the Mark removed and I promise I won’t use it except in emergencies.
Dan narrowed his eyes at the apologetic fairy. “Please tell me you’re not reading my thoughts.”
“I’m not?” Phil said hopefully. At Dan’s suspicious look he quickly added, “No, really. I can get impressions of your feelings at this level. I can say things to you, but you’d have to want me to hear you if I wanted a response.”
Dan cocked an eyebrow, honestly not believing a word out of Phil’s mouth (and really, who could blame him?) “Well, I guess this is the part where you try and convince me to go on your quest again, isn’t it?”
Phil violently shook his head. “You said you didn’t want to go, so we’re not going. I’ll figure out a way to fix this. You won’t even have to see me most of the time, if you want.”
Carrie was having absolutely none of that. “That’s completely insane. Dan almost died tonight, Phil. You can’t put his life in danger because you’re awkward and guilty over something that happened twenty years ago. And you,” she turned her hot gaze on Dan, and he had to wonder for a minute if her magic was tied very closely with her emotions seeing as he was now much warmer than was exactly comfortable. “You will quit being mad over something you don’t even understand.”
“Yes, ma’am!” he and Phil said simultaneously. Dan shot him a grin at their similar thinking but when Phil cautiously returned it, he turned away with a scowl. “Well, then, what do you suggest?” Phil asked.
Carrie shrugged. “Do your original plan. Go to the Land of the Fae and seek help from the Elder. Even Mrs. D willingly admits that they have the best shot at fixing this. No one in this realm could remove the Mark.”
Dan crossed his arms. “I’m not-”
“Going to last another damn day if I don’t do this,” she interrupted, fire dancing in her eyes. Then her features softened and she gently said, “Please, Dan. This is the only way. Don’t make me lose my friend because of his pride.”
Dan sighed and flopped back down on the grass, throwing an arm over his eyes. “When do we leave?” he groaned.
“Now, if you’re ready,” Phil said softly. “Carrie set us up near a portal. Well, as near as she can get.”
Dan snapped back up and stared at Carrie. “You’re not coming?” he demanded.
She smiled sadly and shook her head. “I don’t belong in that world. You’re going to have to go it alone.”
Phil chose this moment to quietly slide away, sensing the thick emotion in the air. Dan was honestly rather grateful. “What if I don’t come back?” he asked.
Carrie just smiled wider, tears glistening in the corners of her eyes, and said, “Then you should know that you’ve made these past three years more magical than any spell,” before wrapping him in his second hug of the night. “And I’ll know that you’re where you belong.”
“Where I belong? Carrie, what-” But she shook her head, a single tear rolling down her soft cheek, and stood up to walk away.
Phil came up to where Dan was still sitting, silently staring at where Carrie disappeared, and offered his hand. “Come on, Dan. We need to go before the Pixies find us.”
And with that, Dan put his hand in Phil’s and allowed him to lead the way to the fairy world once again, desperately ignoring the tears stinging his eyes.
The fairy city was a lot more and less than Dan remembered it. (Assuming the flood of sensory memories he’d gotten when he’d crossed the Barrier were to be believed.) And by that he meant it was a lot more crowded and a lot less tiny.
It was perfect.
Honestly, Dan wanted to hate it. He wanted to hate it so much, seeing as it was basically the cause of all his worries, but much like the London he had immediately fallen in love with all those years ago, there were Fairies flitting back and forth on brilliant gossamer wings and there was so much noise that you could easily see yourself melting into anonymity but not so loud that you couldn’t hear your companion, and he was entranced. All his life Dan had wondered how Harry must have felt entering Diagon Alley for the first time, but now he had quite the basis for comparison. All around him Fairies were darting back and forth hovering what looked to be a meter (but was probably closer to a couple centimeters) off the ground. They all had their hands full and their noses buried in whatever magical thing they were doing and holy shit was that person taking a beetle on a walk? Oh my god.
“If you keep whipping your head around like that you’re going to snap your neck and then Carrie would kill me,” Phil chuckled. Unlike all the other Fairies, he had both feet planted firmly on the ground and was walking next to Dan at a slow enough rate that the human could see as much as possible. Truth be told, it would have been much quicker and easier if he had just Flitted straight to Center Hall, but then he wouldn’t have gotten to see the wonder that filled Dan’s big brown eyes as they wandered the winding streets together.
“At this point, I honestly don’t care,” Dan grinned. He knew he most likely looked like a dork with big sparkly anime eyes and that he was still supposed to be mad at Phil, but when you’re literally in the magic city of your dreams (he’d have to talk to Phil about any previous dream tampering) some things get pushed to the side. “This place is amazing.”
Phil positively glowed at the praise. “Fairy cities actually grow and change with perception,” he boasted like he’d built the damn thing himself. “Believe it or not, this is actually the same city I took you to before, but you were too young to comprehend it at that point. Now that you’re all grown up what you’re seeing is closer to reality, but there are still some things you simply can’t wrap your mind around as a human.”
Dan gaped at him. “You mean to tell me that there are things here that exist that I can’t see?”
Phil’s wings shuddered in delight at Dan’s gobsmacked face. “More than that they don’t exist to you. Take for example-” He suddenly stopped and picked up and acorn cap in both hands and showed it to Dan. “What’s this?”
“The top part of an acorn?”
“Actually, it’s a swirling vortex of magic that allows you to transport anywhere in the cosmos.”
“Oh my god really?”
Phil grinned and tossed it away. “Nah, it’s just an acorn.” Dan playfully swatted his arm, but snickered along with the other. “You should have seen your face!” Phil crowed, wiping a tear from his eye. “You looked like I had just told you Santa and the Easter Bunny were real and that they were your parents.”
Dan blushed lightly at his gullibility, but still managed a grin as he shoved Phil. “Hey now, I just found out Fairies are real and I almost became one. I’m not taking anything for granted.” He furrowed his brow suddenly and gave Phil a suspicious side eye. “Santa isn’t real, right?”
“Sorry, I promised the elves I wouldn’t say.”
“There actually are Elves, though,” Phil added, guiding them down one last street. “They’re big and tall and interact with the human world a lot.” He paused for a moment and grinned. “Elvis Presley was one.”
“You’re shitting me.”
“No!” Phil giggled. “He was a real Elf! His name wasn’t Elvis, when he got to your world they misheard Elf Pressed Leaf, and it stuck.”
“For some reason I have a hard time believing you.”
“Well, we’re here, so you can fact check me when we get inside,” Phil pouted, gesturing to the towering building before them.
“So this is where the Elder is?” Dan asked, suddenly feeling a pool of worry in his belly.
Phil nodded solemnly, sensing Dan’s apprehension (that whole built in mood ring was something Dan was still having a bit of a hard time with) he said, “Don’t worry, everything will be fine.”
Dan didn’t really have anything else to say at this point, which was a good thing because it was at this very moment when he was tackled to the ground by a big squealing pink and blonde something. “Daniel!” it - well, she probably, but Dan was making an effort not to assume anything in this world and culture he knew nothing about. In fact, it was probably best that he take that mindset home with him - gushed, stroking his cheeks in a very motherly fashion. “It’s been ages since I saw you last; you’ve grown up so much!”
“Dan, this is Louise,” Phil chuckled. “She’s one of my best friends and she was there when you first Crossed Over.”
“You were so small,” she cooed, standing back up and pulling Dan with her. “And Phil spent the entire time positive he was going to step on you.”
Phil flushed brightly and sputtered, “What? No I didn’t! That’s a-!” He turned to Dan and said very seriously, “That’s a lie. She’s a liar. Don’t believe a word she says.”
Dan grinned. To be perfectly honest, it was really cool seeing Phil some place he was obviously more comfortable. Pretty much the entire time he’d been around Dan out of his dog form he’d been under attack whether physically or verbally and it had made him shrink back into himself and his tone was a lot higher pitched and worried. Now he walked tall with his shoulders back and an easy smile on his face while he spoke with someone he knew and trusted with a deeper, more mellow voice. “I dunno, Phil, you seem the type that would wind up stepping on a small child.”
While Phil squawked in protest and Louise giggled madly, two more Fairies came up. Well, Dan was pretty sure they were Fairies, but the weirdly iridescent green eyes of one and the twitching smirk of the other lead Dan to think they also might be imps. If imps were a thing, that is.
“Chris, PJ! It feels like it’s been ages!” Phil beamed. “Dan, this is Chris,” he said, gesturing to the one who looked like he was about to pull down Dan’s pants, “and this is PJ.” PJ was apparently the curly haired one who looked like he wouldn’t pull your pants down but instead had something much more elaborate planned.
“Nice to meet you again, Dan,” PJ said charmingly, flashing a grin that would probably get someone’s pants down without Chris’s help.
“Maybe this time you’ll actually do something other than stare wide-eyed at us and try to pet our wings,” Chris added, and Dan had always thought that brown eyes were a detractor but the way Chris’s lit up with playful intelligence made him consider rethinking his stance. “However, it looks like that might not be the case.”
“It’s not my fault Fairies are all unfairly attractive,” Dan huffed. “It’s simply too much for my bisexual little heart to handle.” Louise, Chris and PJ all laughed (Chris bent over like it was the funniest thing to leave someone’s mouth in the history of the world) while Phil just crossed his arms and flushed scarlet, wings fluttering nervously behind him. Interesting.
“Anyway!” Phil said loudly. “Dan and I need to go see the Elder. Pixies are after Dan in the human realm and we need to get his Mark removed.”
That sobered the three up nicely. “What do you mean remove his Mark?” PJ asked, squinting suspiciously.
“Yeah, mate,” Chris piped in. “I thought you were bringing him back to stay.”
“He only needs to stay three more days before he’s made it,” Louise offered. “It’s not like it would be difficult for him to stay.”
“I know that,” Phil snapped, dragging a hand down his face. “But he’s got a life in the other world. Friends, two jobs. If he doesn’t want to stay - which he doesn’t - then I’m not taking that choice away from him.”
“You know, I am right here and I don’t exactly like it when people talk about me like I’m not,” Dan said cooly. “And what’s this about three days? You most certainly didn’t bring that up.”
“If you’re here on the Solstice you’ll become a right proper Fairy,” PJ said helpfully.
“Well, between Pixie attacks and getting banished twice there wasn’t exactly time to go too much into detail,” Phil snarked, completely ignoring PJ’s outburst.
Dan felt oddly bad about the second bit, but quashed the feeling when he remembered that he had every right to do what he did both times. “Well, that’s a pretty big thing to worry about, if you ask me.”
Phil suddenly got very serious and looked Dan straight in the eye. Dan hadn’t noticed before, but they weren’t just blue but also had flecks of green and gold starbursting from his iris. Dan made a mental note to ask if plant Fairies were a thing and if Phil was one. “Dan, I promise you that won’t be a problem. I’m keeping track of every second you spend here and I swear on my wings that you will go home at the end of this.”
Dan just stood there for a second, breathless and having a hard time blinking. He’d never had somebody promise him something with such intensity before and all he knew to do was whisper, “Okay.”
“Not that this isn’t touching,” Chris interrupted, slinging his arms around and and Phil’s shoulders and popping a bubble Dan hadn’t realized they were in. (A metaphorical bubble that is. Not an actual bubble because he knew Phil could make those and he wasn’t about to assume being in a giant bubble at any point in time) “But if you want to see the Elder-”
“And we do,” Phil interrupted.
“- then you’re out of luck because they’re at their Forest Home.”
“What?!” Phil cried. “It’s not even the Solstice! What are they doing?”
Chris just shrugged while Louise quietly added, “There was actually a pretty big panic when it happened. They never came back from their winter retreat; you’d know but you’ve been in the human realm since January.”
Phil sunk to the ground, elbows on his knees and hands in his hair, looking like the world had just been knocked out from under his shaky legs. Dan carefully approached him and crouched down so they were eye level. “Phil? Are you alright?”
He looked up, and Dan could see the horror clouding his eyes. “Oh god, Dan, I’m so sorry.”
Dan quickly shook his head. “No, come on, Phil, it’s not your fault. It’s not like you made the Elder leave or anything. Hell, you didn’t even know they were missing, right?” A head shake. “That’s what I thought. And anyway, this isn’t that big of a deal, right? I mean, we can just go see them ourselves wherever they are.”
“Ah, actually, no,” PJ coughed. “No Fairy has ever made it to the Elder’s Forrest Home. We don’t even know exactly where it is.”
“Yeah, mate, you’re better off just accepting your life as either a Fairy or Pixie bait,” Chris said.
Louise actually looked the most apologetic of the three. “I’m sorry, Dan. I know it’s not what you want to hear, but-”
“No.” Four heads snapped around to see Phil sitting in the same place, but now with that fierce determination from before on his face. “Dan, I’m taking you to see the Elder no matter what, I don’t care what it takes. I promised you I’d fix this and damn it I’m going to fix it.” He stood up and offered Dan (who was still crouching) a hand with a soft smile on his face. “Come on, we’ve got a mess to clean up.” Dan took the hand with a grin, ignoring the bright warmth in his chest that made him feel like he was floating when Phil pulled him to his feet.
“You’re going to die,” PJ said flatly.
“Please, Phil, this is such an awful idea and you know it,” Louise begged.
“I’ll have the Council prepare you both a nice funeral,” Chris chirped.
Phil rolled his eyes and tried to shove past them, tugging Dan along with their still connected hands, but they held firm. “It’s going to be fine. I don’t expect the three of you to come with us but you can’t stop me.” With that they parted, looking like they were already picturing the lovely service following Dan and Phil’s deaths.
Once they were a decent ways away from the other Fairies, Dan quietly asked, “Phil are we really going to die?”
Phil snorted. “Of course not. Like I said, it’ll be fine. It may be true that no Fairy has ever lived to tell the tale of finding the Elder is because no one has ever tried. It’s technically the truth but it leaves out quite a bit of information. Most importantly,” he grinned, looking remarkably confident all the sudden, “I’ve never tried.”
“Oh? And just what makes you so special.”
“I’m really really old,” he smirked, obviously proud of this claim. “And being that old gives you certain perks. I’m actually up for a seat on the Council in a century.”
Dan gawked. “Just how old are you?”
This question actually cause Phil to pause. “I- I actually don’t know.” He furrowed his brow in concentration. “One of the first things I can remember is Lady le Fay teaching me how to summon my wand. I think. So around eight hundred maybe?”
“Wait. Lady LeFay? As in Morgan le Fay? As in King Arthur’s crazy evil witch sister Morgan le Fay?”
This was obviously the wrong thing to say as Phil bristled up and defensively snapped, “No! Well, I mean, yes she was around during King Arthur’s time and she did interact with him, but she was not crazy, evil or his sister. Your ancient texts really liked to exaggerate after the 13th-century. She is the Mother of Fairies and taught us what we know. She’s actually the reason we’re known as the Fae.”
Dan blinked in wide-eyed wonderment. “That’s amazing! Is she still around?”
“Of course,” Phil scoffed.
“Then why don’t we get her to remove my Mark?”
“Because then we would die,” Phil said simply. “We may refer to her as Mother and we do love and respect her and she loves us in turn, but you don’t approach Lady le Fay. If she wanted to take part in this then she would chose to do so.”
“So, kind of like a real mother.” Phil snorted and shoved Dan’s shoulder. Grinning in kind, he asked, “So, where are we going? I may be hopeless with directions, but I can tell that we’re not headed towards the woods which is where I imagine most Forest Homes to be.”
“We’re spending the night at my place,” Phil explained. “If we’re going out into the forest then we’re going to need some supplies and a good night’s sleep.”
Dan gulped silently and nodded. He was ready.
Chapter 4: Part Three
My lovely artist's art is here! http://41.media.tumblr.com/1e01524c8fa7caec57d10134197c4242/tumblr_inline_nvtsy5buP21s5og72_500.jpg
Phil’s place honestly wasn’t what Dan was expecting. He was expecting a lot of dirt and leaves and something more along the lines of Pixie Hollow. (Not that he watched Pixie Hollow, of course not.) Phil’s house was actually a lot like Dan’s. It had a lounge with a sofa, a tiny bedroom that was dominated by a colorful bed, and a kitchen that held all the evidence of a young bachelor living alone. Phil cheerfully pointed out that everything from the radio to the TV - which he had to pry Dan away from. Sue him for wanting to know if there was a Great Fairy Bake Off - all ran solely on magic. Dan had to admit he was a little disappointed. Not in the magic that he could literally feel thruming through the walls, but in the familiarity of it all. If it weren’t for the half acorn shell acting as a display bowl for what he was sincerely hoping was fairy dust he wouldn’t have picked this place out of a lineup of any other tiny flat in London. He also refrained from telling Phil his opinion because after his misstep with Morgan le Fay he really wasn’t looking forward to the next time he was Fairy-racist.
The pair spent the rest of the afternoon gathering all the necessary supplies for their journey - food, blankets, basic medical supplies, a couple changes of clothes (Dan flushed brightly when he realized he was still in his hoodie and sweatpants and that he had met three remarkably attractive people wearing just that. Nice first impression) and some secret magical thing that Phil refused to share with Dan - before Phil retreated to the kitchen to make dinner with a stern order that Dan find something on TV. Thirty minutes later, Dan had decided on some animated program about a mermaid and her dragon friend and they were munching on some strange pasta dish that looked like spaghetti bolognese with green sauce but tasted sharp and fresh like mint. It was surprisingly good, but that could have been because Dan was ravenous.
“This is actually really cool, despite being a kids’ show,” Dan commented, slurping down the last of his pasta.
“Hey now,” Phil protested. “You and I both know that animation does not a kids’ show make.”
“Yeah, but this is a kids’ show. I can tell,” Dan mumbled. He leaned heavily on Phil and looked up at him through his fringe. “It is, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, but that’s completely beside the point.”
“Thought so,” Dan laughed. Before he could finish, though, his laugh turned into a deep yawn. He drug his hand down his face in frustration. “Why am I so sleepy?”
Phil suddenly looked concerned. “Well, it’s been over twenty four hours since you last slept and you’ve been through a hell of a lot in that time. Come on, let’s get you to bed.”
“Don’t wanna get up,” Dan pouted, digging his face into the other’s shoulder. Phil was probably right: he only ever got this cuddly when he was seriously sleep deprived, but he really was comfortable just half-laying on Phil and watching a cartoon dragon burn down a city. Phil laughed and stood, scooping Dan into his arms, causing him to let out a squawk of distress. “What are you doing?”
“You didn’t want to get up and I didn’t want you to get a bad neck from sleeping funny,” Phil grinned. “Compromise.”
“Yeah, but how are you holding me up even without trying?”
“You accept that I can fly, but you question my ability to pick you up?”
“You’re right. All that flying has probably given you some killer shoulder muscles.”
Phil giggled and tossed Dan on the bed where he bounced a couple times before coming to a stop. Quite pleased with himself for ignoring Phil’s earlier insistence that he change, Dan pulled off his hoodie and crawled under the bright blue and green duvet. He then rolled away from Phil and stared quietly at the blank wall before him. A weight depressed the bed next to his hip and he heard Phil softly ask, “What’s wrong, Dan? I can feel your thoughts running a thousand miles an hour and your anxiety is rising.”
Dan bit his lip in thought but decided that speaking to the wall gave him courage he wouldn’t have face to face. “I’m scared this is all a dream and that I’m going to wake up Friday morning completely alone in my shitty flat. I mean, I was actually hoping that this was a dream before but it’s also kind of cool to actually have my life mean something, you know?”
“Your life has always meant something, Dan,” Phil said gently. “Never forget how amazing and important you are. But don’t worry, I’ll still be here when you wake up.” Dan squeezed his eyes shut tight and said nothing. With a sigh, Phil stood and quietly left the room. And if Dan thought he felt a light kiss pressed to the back of his head?
Well, that was between him and his sleep-addled imagination, and not for Phil to know.
Dan didn’t really know what he expected to wake up to in the morning. On a normal Sunday (he’s pretty sure it was Sunday at least? Maybe. His internal clock had been completely fucked up) he’d wake up around noon when his empty stomach forced him out of bed, or right at eight o’clock if his downstairs neighbor had a “special friend” over the night before. Every other day of the week he woke up to the sound of his phone screeching that it was time to get his lazy ass to work. His dream way to be woken up was by the smell of breakfast being cooked by a ridiculously attractive person who liked him enough to stick around. What he was not expecting, however was waking to the sound of yelling and heavy things being thrown about. Yawning, he rolled out of bed and wandered towards the kitchen, sleepily rubbing the dust from his eyes, to investigate.
This was, perhaps, not the brightest move because as soon as he took one step into the room he had to immediately drop into a crouch to avoid a heavy frying pan that was zooming around the room. In fact, all of the dishes and even the wall decor were swirling around the room in an angry vortex. In the center Phil and Louise were squared off, shouting at one another, both of them red faced and completely ignoring everything but the other. Dan had seen Phil in battle before against a Pixie (and this was nothing compared to that) but in the short time he’d known her and from what Phil had told him, Louise was the softest, gentlest person imaginable. However, looking at her now with her features hard and her long blonde hair whipping about and her wings beating furiously so that she was hovering right in Phil’s face, Dan suddenly remembered why Fairies weren’t always depicted as the friendly people of Neverland.
“This is foolish and you know it!” Louise spat.
“It’s not foolish if I know what I’m doing, which I do!” Dan took a moment to internally grin at how utterly Northern Phil sounded when he was mad and bellowing.
“Nobody has ever found the Elder if they didn’t want to be found!”
“That’s because no one has ever tried!”
“You think there might be a reason for that?”
“I don’t care!”
“Well, I do! You and Dan could die!”
“What do you want me to do, Louise? We don’t stand a chance against the Pixies with Dan still having his Mark and I’m not making him stay here. I promised him that I’d take him home at the end of this and I’m not breaking another promise to him.”
Louise seemed to crumple in on herself. She landed back on her feet and everything circling them slowly came to a stop on the nearest bit of floor or counter space. “I’ll stop you,” she said fiercely. “I don’t care what it takes, I’ll-”
“Actually, you can’t.” Dan, Phil, and Louise tore their attention away from the argument to see Chris and PJ leaning in the doorframe of the kitchen. Phil muttered something about changing the locks and revamping his protection spell while PJ continued, “Trust me, Chris and I spent the whole of yesterday trying to get the Council involved in stopping him, seeing as there’s no way we could stop him physically or magically. They seemed like they were interested at first but Chris made the mistake of mentioning that Dan was Phil’s Childe and they instantly changed their tune.”
“Apparently, Danny and Philly here,” Chris paused to make a vague gesture between the two, “are special little snowflakes and no one is allowed to interfere with their journey. However,” he grinned as PJ picked up a couple of travel bags from behind him, “they didn’t say anything about us conveniently taking a trip to find the Elder ourselves at the exact same time.”
“You coming, Louise?” PJ smirked.
Louise looked torn for a moment. It was obvious that she still thought this was the worst idea ever imagined by human or Fae, but she was also unwilling to let Phil go it alone. “At least this way I’ll get to keep an eye on you two and patch you up when you nearly kill yourselves.”
“That’s the spirit!” Chris crowed, loping forward to sling an arm around her shoulders. “Three friends going on an impossible mission while two of their other friends go on the same mission at the same time. Complete coincidence, of course.”
PJ looked over to where Phil was still flushed and breathing heavily and loudly cleared his throat. “Come on, you two. We’ve got some packing to do. We’ll meet back up here in an hour. And, Phil?” Blue eyes met green in a short exchange. “We will catch you if you leave without us. You may be a higher tier than the rest of us, but Chris is the best tracker we know and we won’t be slowed down by a human.”
Phil huffed and looked away. “Fine. But we’re leaving in an hour, whether you’re here or not.”
And with that, the other three Fairies left the building. Finally out from under their scrutinizing gazes, Phil curled in on himself, weakly resting his forearms on the counter. “Why do they always do this?” he whispered to himself.
“Because they care about you.” Phil’s head snapped up. Some time during his miniature breakdown Dan had found it appropriate to heave himself up onto the counter next to Phil and give him one of his stupid kind smiles while he looked down on him. “Yeah, I don’t know if you noticed, but I was here pretty much the whole time.”
“I always notice you,” Phil muttered.
Dan felt warmth climb up his neck. “Yeah, well, they’re only doing this because they care about you. If they didn’t do anything, then you probably wouldn’t mean much to them.”
“But I can’t protect them if they come with us,” Phil argued. “I would have had a hard enough time with protecting you, but I can’t take care of all four of you.”
“You don’t have to,” Dan reasoned. “Just because none of them are as big and powerful as you doesn’t mean that they’re helpless. Haven’t you ever heard that a product is greater than the sum of its parts?”
Dan laughed. “Well, it means that even though all their magic together might be less than yours, they’d probably kick your ass in a fight if they were working together. Especially Chris and PJ. It’s like they share a brain.”
“They do, actually. PJ was brought here by Chris and because of that they’re connected. It’s like ours, but ours didn’t get a chance to develope to that point.”
“Huh. I had no idea.”
“But that’s beside the point. Do you really think they’ll be able to handle themselves?” Phil asked, biting his lower lip and looking up at Dan like he held the answers to the universe.
Dan smiled wider. “I think you’re definitely underestimating them. Now come on.” he hopped off the bar, “show me how to make some freaky Fairy breakfast. I’m starving.”
Phil chuckled and shook his head, but bent down to pick up a frying pan from its spot on the ground. “How about we just have some eggs and toast instead?”
“And just how are you going to find an egg small enough?” Dan snarked, but was quickly answered when Phil emerged from the fridge with an egg in each hand. “The hell kind of bird laid those?”
“Should have guessed.”
“I can get hummingbird eggs to be closer to the size you’re accustomed to, but those have to come all the way from America. Besides, we both need a big breakfast and these taste better in my opinion.”
“Try new things!” Dan said, sarcasm dripping off his tone. The two laughed together for a moment before Dan asked what had been on his mind almost all morning. “Phil, how come everyone acts so weird around you? Like, why did the Council back off when you were brought up or why do people always step out of your way?”
Phil looked down at the eggs he was stirring and was quiet for a moment. “Dan, you know how I told you I was old yesterday?”
“Well, I didn’t really go into much detail,” he admitted awkwardly. “When I say I’m old I mean I’m one of the oldest Fairies in existence. Lady le Fay literally created Fairies and I was in the second group she made. The only people older than I am are members of the Council and one of them is due to retire soon, that’s why I said I was up for a Council position. Also, because I was born when Lady le Fay was still taking a very active role in Fairy activity she was the one who taught me to do magic which definitely gives me a leg up when it comes to that.”
“That’s actually really cool,” Dan beamed. Phil flushed darkly and went back to scrambling their eggs and shoving bread at Dan to toast. “I actually feel pretty honored; the Fairy equivalent of a duke picked me out.”
“Dan, that’s not- Nevermind, just cook the bread.”
“I can’t find the toaster.” With a wave of a pale hand the toaster popped up from the floor and bounced up and down with a loud clanging sound until Dan picked it up. “Toast. Got it.”
Phil rolled his eyes and dumped the eggs onto a serving plate while Dan busied himself with the toaster. “Be careful, that one goes a lot quicker than-”
Phil sniggered a bit while Dan juggled the hot toast onto the plate. Ignoring the other’s cheeks puffed out in agitation Phil said, “You wanna keep watching that kids’ show with breakfast?”
Dan shrugged. “Nah. Why don’t you show me what real Fairy TV is like.”
With that decided, they sat down to watch some talent search show. Phil wanted to show him a show about a Fairy trying to make it in the human world and failing miserably, but Dan insisted that he needed something without commitment. Besides, it was cool watching what kinds of tricks the Fairies could do with their magic.
“You know, if I just stayed here I would get to find out who wins,” Dan joked.
However, Phil didn’t laugh. He stiffened and gritted out a low “Don’t say stuff like that, Dan,” before returning his full attention to the TV.
That kind of stung. Dan had thought they were over the whole Phil telling Dan he didn’t want him around thing but apparently not. “Why not?” he demanded. “I like it here. Everybody else wants me here, even if you don’t. Plus it’d solve our Mark problems.”
Phil scowled at him. “Do you want to stay? Really. Speak up if you do.”
Dan looked down at his lap and mumbled out a “No,” but he had to wonder how much of him was lying.
A derisive snort later and Phil said. “Thought so.”
Dan’s wallowing was cut short however when Phil sprang up to his feet, wings fluttering to give him a bit of a boost, and offered him a hand. “Come on, then. You need to change and I need to clean up the kitchen before we leave on a three day trip.”
Dan rolled his eyes as he made his way to the bedroom. “Your domesticity is totally ruining my adventure vibe!”
“Then your adventure vibe can clean up three day old dishes!” Phil shouted around a laugh.
Dan just snorted and pulled on the tee shirt Phil had left out for him. That was another thing that seriously surprised Dan about the Fairy world. Instead of having clothes made out of like, leaves and other nature things, everything was just a tiny version of human clothes but the graphic tees sported phrases that made no sense to him like “Flitters do it faster” and the dresses (which anyone was allowed to wear without a second glance, which was cool) were longer and flowy-er. That and some of the Fairies kept with the fashion of their time and you could see someone in a white powdered wig having a heated discussion with someone in tie-dye and bellbottoms. on a street corner. It was pretty cool.
It was hard finding something in Phil’s rainbow of a wardrobe, seeing as Dan refused to compromise his aesthetic, even for a life threatening quest. He had dug up a solid black shirt with a thin white eclipse on the front, but Phil had wrinkled his nose and explained that it was merchandise from a band that become seriously problematic in the time since its purchase. Dan quickly discarded it and settled for one with stars around the collar. Fortunately, Phil had the same opinion on black skinny jeans that Dan did. Unfortunately, Phil had told him that skinny jeans were unacceptable adventure wear and wrestled Dan into a pair of black (Thank god for small mercies) cargo shorts when he walked in and seen Dan trying to squirm his way into the jeans.
“I look awful in shorts,” Dan whined.
“First off, we’re not going to a runway. What you look like isn’t important,” Phil said with a roll of his eyes as he got dressed himself. Dan pointedly did not stare at his chest. “Second, maybe if you ditched the all black you’d quit giving off that vibe that says you take yourself too seriously and you never left your emo phase. Then the shorts wouldn’t be out of place. Third, you look fine.”
“I’m not sure if I’m ready to be taking fashion advice from someone in a tee shirt covered in jellyfish,” Dan quipped. He had made the obligatory offended noise when Phil brought up the whole emo thing, but he’d heard worse from Carrie (His heart kind of twanged at the thought of her) as a polite hello so he wasn’t really bothered by any of it.
Phil snorted. “And I’m not sure if I’m ready to be receiving criticism from someone who thought it would be a good idea to walk through the woods for three days in the middle of summer while wearing skinny jeans.”
Their back and forth was interrupted by the front door to Phil’s flat banging open and Chris shouting, “Come on, lovelies! We’ve got and ancient and mysterious entity only ever described as a feeling to find!”
Phil rolled his eyes and muttered something in some foreign tongue under his breath. Moments later a loud shriek followed closely by an angry “Phil!” from Chris sounded from the hallway. Phil grinned and turned to Dan. “You ready?”
“Of course I’m ready,” Dan mocked scoffingly. “I spend all day every day on my ass doing as little as physically possible; why wouldn’t I be ready to trek through the woods at the drop of a hat?” He shot Phil a grin and made his way into the lounge where he burst out laughing. Apparently Phil had been muttering a spell of some kind earlier as a tiny potted cactus had sprouted a mouth which was clamped tightly on Chris’s nose.
This was going to be great.
This was awful.
“How much longer?” Dan whined. Somehow he had forgotten the reason he never went outside was because it was full of dirt, bugs, and inconvenient weather. Fortunately, as he was now about fifteen centimeters tall most bugs decided they had much better bug things to take care of and didn’t bother him. (That didn’t stop him from jumping and shrieking when a cockroach scuttled past. Considering it was now the size of a labrador, he wasn’t even ashamed.) Unfortunately, the grass and dirt were now gargantuan obstacles to overcome as opposed to mere annoyances and the ground was still moist and squishy from the downpour that had soaked London a few days prior. So yeah. Not nearly as fun or glamorous as Skyrim, Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings made it out to be.
“Would you quit complaining?” PJ groaned. “We’ve been at this about two hours now and I’m ready to feed you to the next Pixie that comes along. It’s not nearly as bad as you’re making it out to be.”
“Easy for you to say,” Dan snapped. “You’re just over there flapping your dumb wings and not touching the ground. Do you know how wet my socks are right now?”
“Don’t worry, we’re almost to Felix and Marzia’s place,” Phil soothed, ignoring PJ. Unlike the other three Fairies in their company, he was trudging along the ground on foot just like Dan. Unlike Dan, he wasn’t complaining about wet socks. Dan appreciated the solidarity. “Give it ten minutes.”
“Why are we going there?” Dan asked.
“Well, I figured you wouldn’t want to walk the whole way there, so I called ahead last night and arranged a ride for us. They help out Fairies going too deep into the forrest,” Phil grinned. “Plus this way nobody will have to carry their bags.” A cheer sounded from Chris, PJ and Louise. “Assuming Dan doesn’t get fed to a Pixie, that is. Whoever feeds Dan to a Pixie has to carry all the luggage themselves.” PJ let out an awkward but strangely apologetic cough.
“My hero,” Dan cooed sarcastically. “I’m so lucky to have you.”
“No, you’re lucky that I’ll get in trouble with the Council if something happens to you. Otherwise I’d feed you to the Pixie myself.”
Dan held a hand to his chest and made a loud scoffing noise in mock offence. “Well, I never.”
“Oh my god, I’ve never been so happy to see that cottage before in my life,” Chris cried in relief. “Anything to get away from your sickening flirtations.”
Dan’s sputtering was cut off when a Fairy landed in front of them with a grin that honestly looked too big and bright to fit in her face. “You’re here!” she cried in a thick, bell-like accent. She had long, two toned hair like Louise, but hers was a more muted blonde on brown but no less lovely. Everything about her was small and dainty and it made Dan kind of want to stare at her heart-shaped face all day. But that would probably be creepy so he wasn’t going to do that.
“Dan, this is Marzia,” Phil introduced. “Marzia, Dan.”
“It’s so good to meet you!” she beamed. “I’ve heard so much about you from over the years.”
“Only good things, I hope,” Dan grinned, awkwardly scratching the back of his head.
“I don’t think Phil could actually say anything bad about you,” she giggled. “Now, come with me, Felix should have some lunch ready for you, if he wasn’t goofing off.” With a cheerful wave, she beckoned them along and led them to a cottage that was almost as tiny and cute as she was. “Pewds! Come say hi to everyone! Bring Edgar and Maya!” Marzia called as soon as they stepped inside.
“You can’t boss me around!” Came a shout from another room. Like Marzia’s, this voice was heavily accented, but instead of being bright and round it was low and sharp. Dan though it made a nice contrast.
“I am bossing you!”
“Well, you shouldn’t.” With that another Fairy walked into the room, a tiny tree frog under each arm. Dan could only assume this was Felix, an assumption that was proven correct after a round of introductions. The tree frogs were Edgar and Maya.
Dan had to admit (to himself, of course. None of this was to be spoken out loud.) that Marzia and Felix were much closer to what he expected of Fairies. They lived in a cottage in the woods with all sorts of nature as decoration and furniture and they both wore muted colors and loose flowy clothes that just seemed to fit the stereotypical fairy better. However, Dan was honestly glad that he’d been chosen by Phil instead of a Fairy that was more like them because there didn’t appear to be a single thing that ran on electricity in their home. Then again, they were magical creatures who could bend reality at will. Who knew what kind of stuff they had stashed away.
“So, Marzia said something about food?” Chris questioned as soon as the conversation died down.
“Chris!” Louise scolded. “We just got here; wait a moment, would you? Besides you ate two hours ago, you can’t be hungry already.”
“It was two straight hours of flying!” Chris argued. “Besides, it’s not like we have all day.”
“He’s got a point,” Phil said with an apologetic smile. “We do need to be on our way as soon as possible.”
“Nah, we get it, bros,” Felix shrugged. “You need to go on your quest to save little Danny boy here.” Dan took this moment to not point out that he was the tallest one in the room. He did share a glance with Phil, and judging by the other’s grin the message was sent. Yes, Dan, I heard you the Phil voice said, loud and clear.
Dan jerked to look at Phil and thought loudly. Wait, can you actually hear me?
Phil gave a quick frown and raised eyebrows, the facial equivalent of a shrug. I guess. Kind of. You’re a little fuzzy.
I dunno. I guess you just wanted me to hear. I can’t get any deeper than your surface thoughts. Also, can you quit shouting? That’s not how this whole telepathy thing works.
Dan was jerked out of his thoughts by Louise snapping her perfectly manicured fingers in front of his nose. “Dan? Food?”
Dan looked over at Phil who was in an animated conversation with the dark brown frog (he was pretty sure it was Edgar) in Marzia’s arms while she giggled. How the hell did he do that? Phil glanced over subtly and shot him a wink. He’d have to watch his thoughts from now on. “I- Yeah. Food. Good.”
Turns out lunch wasn’t quite ready (according to Felix Edgar and Maya had declared a duel to the death and it was his responsibility to separate them. Edgar backed him up by sucking on Maya’s back leg. Maya did nothing to stop him) so they all got a chance to sit around and rest their legs or wings, respectively and watch their hosts cook. It was quite frankly amazing watching Felix and Marzia work with and around each other. Something about they way they were always where the other needed them and the fact that Felix could reach around her for something or she’d slip in between him and the counter to gather supplies was mesmerizing. It was like they were just one person split up into two different bodies. Then again, Dan remembered, they were probably communicating via thought so that might add to it.
Suddenly, Dan was pitched sideways into a shoulder when Phil decided to take a seat right next to him on the couch. “Hey there, stranger,” he grinned, helping Dan sit back up.
“So, what was that Marzia was talking about when she said you couldn’t say anything bad about me?” Dan teased, playfully elbowing him in the ribs.
“You caught that? I was hoping you would be distracted or something,” Phil groaned, resting the top of his head on the wall behind them.
“Yeah, I heard it. Come on, Philly, spill.”
“She was just lying to make you feel better about yourself. All I do is tell people how awful you are,” Phil pouted, but the flush on his cheeks told a rather different story.
Dan sniggered at his embarrassment and leaned against him, resting his head on his shoulder. Normally it took him much longer to get this physically comfortable with someone, but there was just something about Phil that soothed every nerve in his body. Well, that and being in the Realm. Ever since he Crossed Over his mind had been pleasantly buzzing, like all the benefits of getting tipsy without any of the downsides. He told Phil this and softly followed up, “Hey, what if I did decide to stay here with you?”
“Dan,” Phil started, a warning lacing his tone.
“Yeah, I know we talked about not talking about it,” he dismissed. “But I made that decision when I was running on rage and adrenaline and now you won’t even give me enough information to let me change my mind, and it’s not fair. Just humor me, Phil.”
Phil sighed deeply and gave him a look from the corner of his eye. “I just can’t deny you anything, can I?”
“We should keep it that way.”
“Well, in that case,” he said, tapping his chin in thought. “I guess you’d live with me. Most of the time that’s how it works, at least.”
“What do you do for your job?”
“Not much recently. I’ve spent too much time in the human world to hold down a job, so I’ve mostly just been using the money I’ve saved up over the years.” He grinned down at Dan. “Being eight hundred years old has its benefits.”
“What would I do?”
“Whatever you wanted, I suppose,” h shrugged. “You could work with the Council like I do or you could work in a little shop like you do now. Hell, there’s even a stage in town so you could be a stage actor like you always wanted.”
“Stage actor? Me?” Dan scoffed. “Please. I’d probably wind up doing something boring.”
Phil frowned, deep wrinkles lining his brow. “Why don’t you think you’d make a good actor?”
Dan squirmed uncomfortably under his intense gaze. “I dunno. I just don’t.”
“Dan,” Phil sounded exasperated, “you’re an amazing actor. You’ve been doing it since you were eight. You’re so lively and passionate and so in character, it’s astounding. You can even recite entire Shakespearean soliloquies off the top of your head. Not many people can do that.”
“Okay, fine, I could maybe do acting,” Dan mumbled, red painting the tips of his ears. He hadn’t had anyone give him that many complements in one go and - as a post he’d seen on Tumblr so eloquently put it - it was like a vending machine trying to accept a wrinkly note. Frustrating and doing no good for anyone ever. But, like always, he still cradled the comments and kept them close to his heart, no matter how awkward he felt taking them.
“Lunch is ready!” Marzia trilled, beaming and holding a plate in each hand. Behind her Felix was trying to juggle five plates by himself and was giving her an exasperated but incredibly fond look. They all sat down (luckily no plates were harmed in the process) and there was complete silence at the table. Dan wasn’t sure if it was because the food was absolutely fantastic or because it clued everyone’s teeth together. By some miracle, both statements were true.
“So,” Phil started, wrenching his teeth apart. “Do you have everything ready for us after this?”
Felix nodded. Obviously he’d had more practice with eating the food because he opened his mouth with absolutely no problems. “Yeah, he’s ready for you. I picked Stephano because he’s reliable and fast, but an easy ride for beginners.”
Dan chose at this moment to interject. Up until now his teeth had been so tightly stuck together that he was contemplating life as a mime, but the implications of this conversation required his input, regardless of the fact that he may rip out a few teeth. “Excuse me? Who’s Stephano? I thought we were getting some kind of Fairy car?”
Phil and Felix both gave him a funny look. “Bro, Stephano’s a praying mantis. What even is a car?”
“Yeah. I wanted to give you Hercy - he’s a lunar moth - but Phil rejected him pretty quickly. Plus you’d only be able to travel at night.”
Dan paled at the thought of seeing a lunar moth - which were already abominably large in his opinion - while he was this size. Then he remembered the fact that praying mantises bit the heads off their mates and suddenly he wasn’t looking forward to meeting Stephano much anymore, either. Don’t worry Phil soothed silently with no condescension in his tone. All of Felix and Marzia’s bugs are perfectly trained. None of them will hurt you. I wouldn’t have even considered bringing you here otherwise.
Dan breathed a sigh of relief.
As it turned out, meeting Stephano wasn’t scary at all. He mostly just ignored them while Felix fitted him with a double saddle - Phil explained that since Dan had no idea how to ride a mantis that they would ride together - and Marzia loaded up his saddlebags with extra food and anything else they might need. He rather reminded Dan of a cat with the way he stretched and yawned and told everyone around him that he was better than them without saying a word. However, Dan didn’t stick around the stables for long as he spied the dusty fluttering that always warned of a nearby moth. He quickly retreated back inside the house under the guise of making sure they hadn’t accidentally left something.
“Come on, love!” Louise suddenly chirped from right behind him, nearly giving him a heart attack. It was a very near thing. “Phil told me to come get you and that we’re all ready out front, waiting for you.”
“Let’s go, then,” he said with a grim smile.
They made it out front and just as Dan was about to announce his presence Phil turned around with a smile. “Come on, Dan,” he said, outstretching a hand. “Let me help you up.” Dan took the offering, expecting to be hoisted up like he’d done with horses. He did not expect Phil to shoot up just high enough to gently place Dan in his seat behind Phil’s. “We’ll move you up front when night comes so you can sleep,” Phil explained, landing gracefully on the saddle.
“Don’t you need to sleep?”
“Not really,” he shrugged. “Fairies normally just rest for mental and emotional resets. However, we will have to stop tomorrow night for those three as they’ll have been flying for two days straight.”
“Alright already, enough chit chat,” Chris whined. “Let’s get out of here already!”
There was one final round of goodbyes and Dan opened his mouth to complement their hosts on lunch one last time when Phil suddenly kicked his heels and Stephano leapt into the air before stretching out his wings and taking flight.
Dan yelped and threw his arms around Phil’s neck. You could have given me some kind of warning, you moldy spork! he shouted in his head as punishment.
Phil reached back and pinched him in retaliation. You were about to complement their food and we would have been there another whole hour.
Dan rolled his eyes before slowly unwinding his arms from their vice grip around Phil’s throat and instead placed them loosely around his chest. Once he got over the initial shock, riding a praying mantis actually wasn’t as scary as he thought it’d be and wow he never thought he’d be thinking that phrase. Stephano flew in a very straight line at a very high speed, darting side to side only when Phil had to maneuver them around obstacles. (Now that they weren’t confined to the ground and just above it they were able to move much quicker, but now they had to fly around branches and other bugs - some carrying Fairies who let out a shout of salutations - instead of just making their pokey way along.) Dan was also surprised to learn that he knew nothing about praying mantis anatomy because while he had been worried about getting in the way of Stephano’s wings they just spread out to their leathery extent and beat furiously behind them. Also, instead of being thin and stick like Dan had thought his thorax (Dan was about ninety percent sure it was called a thorax) was flat and wide and quite perfect to sit on. To be honest, riding Stephano was easier and more enjoyable than any horse he’d been on.
They rode for hours, and there was just something so freeing about flying through the air at several meters per second on the back of a predatory insect a hundred times larger than it should be, but, much like horse riding, it was also very tiring and by the time the sun was setting and they were landing to eat dinner Dan was slumped heavily against Phil.
“Come on,” Phil coaxed. “It’s food time; hop down.”
“No,” Dan whined in protest. “I’m tired and I’m not hungry. Let me just stay up here forever. Stephano and I have formed a special bond.”
“Dan, I can and will take flight from here and let you fall on the ground.”
“Do it. Let me return to the Earth. I have accepted my fate.” This was apparently the wrong thing to call a bluff on because Dan soon found himself face down in the dirt while Phil hovered just above Stephano’s back, cackling madly. “Have I ever told you I hate you?”
“Not in so many words,” he grinned, offering a hand.
Dan took the hand and was delighted to find that, like pulling someone into a pool, it was quite easy to yank Phil down into the dirt with him. “I hate you,” Dan beamed at the now grouchy Fairy.
“Yeah, yeah,” Phil muttered, righting himself and dusting off his shirt. He then grabbed Dan under his arms and pulled him up, not giving the chance to be toppled over.
“You’re going to have to quit yanking me around like some kind of rag doll,” Dan scowled, brushing himself off as well. “Like, I get that you’re super strong, you don’t need to show it off all the time.”
“I’m sorry,” Phil said, all trace of joking gone. “It didn’t even occur to me that might bother you.”
“It’s fine,” Dan said with a shrug. “Just, let’s keep any major manhandling to emergency situations. Unless, of course you’re into that,” he added with a wink.
Phil rolled his eyes, the apples of his cheeks a light pink and only said, “Help me unload these. Everyone else is already setting up everything.”
Dan grumbled under his breath something about slave drivers as Phil released Stephano to find his own meal. He toted a saddlebag of various foodstuffs to where Louise was patiently tending a fire. She reached up and pulled a flower from thin air before snapping it and causing it to stiffen. She then jammed it deep into the heart of the embers which burst into cheerfully crackling flames and removed it, completely undamaged. She looked up when Dan dropped the bags at her side and smiled. “Hello, Daniel!” she chirped.
“I’m guessing that’s your wand?” he asked in lieu of a typical greeting, nodding at the flower in her hand. “Phil’s is a lot longer and thicker.” He flushed deeply, realizing what he just said. “I mean-”
“I get, Dan,” she laughed, banishing her wand with a flick of her wrist. “But wand sizes are discussed exactly like that around some people, so I’d keep you opinions on Phil’s wand to yourself when you’re around Chris.” A devious glint sprung up in her eyes. “On second thought, if you ever do see Chris’s wand tell him how much more impressive Phil’s is.”
Dan magically flushed darker and groaned, covering his face. “No, Louise. It’s bad enough hearing him go on and on about how he thinks Phil and I are always flirting.”
“You mean to tell me you’re not?”
“No! Well, I mean.”
“Ooooh!” Louise cooed delightedly, clapping her hands. “There’s something you’re not telling me! Spill!”
“I can’t talk about that! What if one of the other three overhears?”
Louise clucked her tongue, clearly unimpressed. “Boys! Go get more wood! Dan and I are going to get started on dinner,” she barked, pulling out a pot and some things Dan didn’t even know the name of for their meal
“Why doesn’t Dan have to come?” Chris whined.
“When Dan sprouts wings and super strength, I’ll send him right along.”
There was some some mutterings of discontent and Dan felt anxiety spring up in his chest. You okay? Phil asked.
Damn. Dan had forgotten about the whole mind-reading thing. I’m fine, but can you stay out of my head? Just for a little bit? The following silence showed Phil’s consent, but somehow managed to seem pouty. I promise we’ll talk about it later, okay?
This time the silence wasn’t so bad, so Dan looked up from his hands to see Louise grinning maniacally at him. He was rather impressed with her ability to cook and pay him so much attention but seeing as the food was hopping in the pot itself, maybe it wasn’t such a big deal. “What?”
“You were just talking to him, weren’t you?” she gushed. “That’s so amazing!”
“What’s so amazing about it? Chris and PJ do it all the time.”
“Chris and PJ are both full-fledged Fairies and have known each other for almost two hundred years and practiced a lot. You’re a Halfling at best and have known Phil for three days. Not many Fairies can do that.”
Dan flushed and looked down at his lap, a smile picking at the corners of his mouth. “Yeah, well, Phil’s pretty amazing isn’t he?”
“You’re not too bad yourself, Daniel James,” she said with a gentle smile. “Now, tell me more about how you and Phil totally aren’t flirting.”
He shrugged. He really didn’t know why he wasn’t on fire at the moment, seeing as his cheeks were literally hot to the touch. “Phil and I aren’t flirting,” he started. “But I may be. Just a little bit.”
“Oh, Dan!” she fawned. “That’s adorable! What brought this about?”
Dan scoffed. “Have you seen the guy, Louise? He’s absolutely gorgeous. And he’s funny and nice and like I thought you were supposed to get nervous around people you get crushes on but I actually just feel really calm? It’s kind of weird, but I feel like he just kind of fits like no one else has.”
“That’s because he does,” she smiled. “Dan, do you know why pretty much every Fairy you’ve seen has someone with them?”
“I figured it was the whole Childe thing.”
“It is. But why is it only ever two? Why aren’t there groups of six?”
Dan furrowed his brow. “I- I don’t know.”
“That’s because a Born Fairy only ever has one Childe, and a Childe never has a Childe of their own. There is a human who is made for every Fairy. That Fairy knows exactly who their Childe is, and what would happen if their Childe was left in the Human realm without them. It’s never good.” She looked very sad now. “Take PJ for example. He’s probably the most creative person I’ve ever met and he loves telling stories. He grew up in a time when if he told the people around him about all the imaginary creatures he could see, he’d be locked up. And when I was human I was going to be infertile,” she continued, blinking her eyes very quickly. It was obvious this was the hard part of what she had to say. “All anyone ever expected of young girls then was to produce children, and I wouldn’t have been able to. I still don’t have any children of my own but I am part of the group of Fairies that takes care of newborn Fairies and helps Children adapt to Fairy life. It’s the best thing that could have ever happened to me and I’m so happy here. Happier than I ever could have been there.”
“Wait, so you’re a Childe?” Dan asked, cocking his head to the side. “How come you didn’t bring your partner or whatever with us?”
“Fairies and Children all have different relationships. For example some are best friends like Chris and PJ while others are in love like Felix and Marzia. But sometimes, no matter what Fate has to say, relationships just don’t work out. That’s what happened with me and Matt. We just didn’t work.”
Dan digested this quietly for a moment. Louise didn’t actually sound that sad about it - maybe wistful with a touch of regret, but not sad - and she had shared it openly so he figured it was alright to talk about. “What exactly do you mean ‘didn’t work’?”
She shrugged. “Exactly what I said. Matt and I tried being together for a while - we even had a handfasting ceremony - but our relationship just didn’t stand up to time. We were together for about fifty years, which may sound like a lot to you but it really isn’t when you’re as old as we are. We’re still on good terms but we decided it would be better for us to just be friends with very separate lives.”
Silence fell between the two of them before Dan burst out “Louise, what if I decided to stay here?”
“Then you’d need to get better at multitasking when you’re mind talking to Phil or Chris and PJ will take the mickey out of you every time you do it.”
“I’m serious, Louise.”
“So am I!” She looked him in the eye. “Dan tell me: were you happy in your old life?”
“Well, I had Carrie and-”
“No, everyone has things and people that make them feel happy,” she interrupted. “Were you happy with your life and what you were doing with it?”
“I- No. Not really.”
“And how have you felt since coming here?”
Dan thought about that for a moment. He thought about the absolute terror he felt leaving his home. He thought about the twist in his heart when he thought of leaving Carrie for good. But he also thought about the elation he felt when Phil smiled at him, or feeling of infinite when he was on the back of a speeding mantis or the amazement that bowled him over every time he learned something new about this world. “I like it here.”
“Then I think you’ve made your decision,” Louise smiled. “And, Dan? If you’re holding back because of Phil then you’re going to learn a lot about that boy over the next thousand years.”
“We’re back!” Phil announced, fluttering in with Chris and PJ flanking him, all of their arms loaded with twigs.
Dan positively beamed at Phil who cocked his brow in confusion but smiled back none the less. “Dinner’s ready,” he said. He felt kind of guilty taking any credit in the food whatsoever seeing as Louise had done it all by herself, but the look of delight on Phil’s face was actually a little worth it. Plus, Louise just rolled her eyes and smiled so she couldn’t be too mad.
“God, I’m starving,” Chris whined.
“Is hungry just a default state with you?” Dan teased, doling out a portion of whatever soup/stew Louise had made.
“Pretty much, from what I’ve observed,” PJ chuckled, taking a bowl and handing it to Chris without direction. Dan had to wonder if all Fairy Childe relationships that stayed together wound up working together as smoothly as Marzia and Felix. Dan hadn’t gotten to see much of Chris and PJ working with one another but if the way they orbited around each other in everyday life was any indication, they were pretty damn good at it. Dan wondered if he and Phil would ever be that good. He hoped they would be.
After a fairly uneventful dinner (Chris had thrown his bowl at Dan’s head when Chris had pulled out his wand and Dan told him how tiny it was compared to Phil’s, but Louise had come to his rescue and frozen the stew in midair before making it collect itself back into its bowl. Phil and PJ had been too busy turning bright red and cackling madly, respectively, to be much help.) they all broke down their little camp site and Phil helped Dan back onto Stephano. This time he just offered to boost Dan up the normal way, but after a couple tries they agreed to let Phil grab him by the waist and fly up. Dan settled down, eager to see how the world looked from the back of a mantis without a Fairy blocking your view. However, with Phil’s warm chest pressing close behind him (had he really sat that close to Phil earlier? What exactly were these saddles made for?) and suddenly the day hit him like a sack of bricks. He let out a tired whine and leaned back heavily on Phil while the Fairy coaxed Stephano into a smooth takeoff.
“You can sleep,” Phil whispered in Dan’s ear, his voice low and raspy and his breath hot on Dan’s neck. “I’ve got you.”
And with that assurance, Dan fell sound asleep.
Waking up in the morning and having your first thought be “Holy shit, I’m flying” can either be the best or worst morning ever. If you went to bed and you wake up only to realize that you’ve been shot out of a catapult with no way of steering or slowing down, you’re probably going to be headed towards the worst morning ever option. However, if you wake up with the arm of a hot guy you know and trust wrapped tight around your waist while his other hand directs your magical flying steed over and under hurdles, you’re probably in for a pretty great morning. Hell, you’re probably in for a great rest of the day, too, if you can keep a hold of the hot guy. Well, according to Dan, at least. He wanted to wake up just like that every morning for the rest of his life. 10/10.
Phil chuckled low and rich in his ear and Dan was suddenly reminded again that Phil could read his thoughts. He really needed to get a grip on that. Fortunately, Dan’s stomach chose that moment to growl obnoxiously so the conversation was steered away from Dan’s embarrassing morning thoughts. “We’ll land and get food soon,” Phil promised.
“I’m surprised he’s not revolting at the lack of food already,” Dan yawned, stretching and pressing his back to Phil’s chest completely on accident. Obviously.
“Yeah, well, we’re almost there so I told him to stuff it.”
“We’re almost there? How do you know? I thought we didn’t know where the Elder was?”
“We don’t know where they are, but I have a really good guess.”
“Yeah? Where’s that?”
“The birthplace of the first Fairies.” Phil squeezed the arm that Dan most certainly didn’t fail to notice was still around his waist. “You’re going to get to see where I spent the first fifty years of my life.”
“So, you mean to tell me that Fairies have been around for a thousand years and nobody bothered to look there for the Elder? That seems like the first place you look, to be honest.”
Phil shrugged. “We’ve never actually needed to find the Elder before now. Besides, it’s not like everybody and their mother knows where it even is. I’m one of about six people outside of the Council who’s ever even been there.”
“You know, every time you tell me about how old you are I feel like you’re explaining how you’re the Chosen One or a cringey Mary Sue in a grade schooler’s story.”
“I will not hesitate to throw you off this bug.”
“Fine. Do it. Louise will catch me.” He raised his voice to shout, “Right, Louise?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about so no.”
Phil sniggered and rested his chin on Dan’s shoulder while he pouted over his friend’s betrayal. “Can’t trust anyone these days,” he mumbled.
“You can trust me.”
“You’re the one threatening to throw me off in the first place.”
“True,” Phil laughed as he guided Stephano down for landing. Like last time they quickly unloaded him and set him free to do his own hunting. Phil looked around and furrowed his brow. “Where are Chris and PJ?”
“I was just about to ask you the same thing,” Louise fretted walking towards them. “You don’t think Pixies-”
“No way,” Phil interrupted, shaking his head. “We’re too deep in the forest, they can’t risk running into Lady le Fay no matter how unlikely. Besides, it early morning and there’s no proper shadows for them to hide in.” Despite all this, he grabbed Dan gently and pulled him tight to his side, glaring about like an enemy could pop out from anywhere.
There was a moment of tense silence before Chris and PJ burst in. Phil looked ready to rip right into them, but froze at their panicked looks. “Pixies,” PJ gasped. “At least fifty of them. They’re not hiding, they’re coming.”
Phil bared his sharp teeth and put Dan fully behind him. “Where are they? How did they find us? Why are they here?”
“Just over the ridge,” Chris said solemnly, all trace of his usual joking completely gone. “PJ and I saw a sparrow’s nest and went to see if we could get some eggs when we saw them. Fortunately, they’re traveling on foot because they can’t Shadow Travel with that many people at this light saturation.”
“I don’t get it,” Phil growled. “What’s so special about Dan? There are Children left in the human realm all the time. Why don’t they just wait for one of them?”
“Think about it, Phil,” Louise reasoned. “You were the oldest Fairy on record to not have a Childe. That means there’s something special enough about Dan that you had to wait eight hundred years for him!”
“Look, we can talk about this later,” Dan snapped. “Right now there’s a big ass group of Pixies coming for us, more specifically, me. Now, I don’t want to get eaten, so we need to run, hide, or fight. Let’s just find this Elder as quickly as possible and be done with this.”
Phil shook his head. “Stephano’s gone, and Fairies can’t carry humans. We’d have to go on foot and we’d be overtaken in less than an hour.”
“Okay, that leaves hiding and fighting. From the way PJ was talking there’s no way we’d stand a chance against these guys so hiding it is.”
“The Pixies can sense you. How do you want to handle that?”
“I can take care of that, actually!” PJ beamed. “It’s a spell I perfected recently. We can change him into a book and then the Pixies wouldn’t sense a Halfling so they’d go on.”
“Okay, that could work. Are there any ideas that don’t involve me being potentially stuck as a piece of literature for life.”
“I think you know exactly how to solve this, Daniel. You’ve always been smarter than anyone gave you credit for,” a familiar voice that sounded like warm honey rang out. Everyone turned around and gasped. Standing there was Dianna Grantham-nee-Howell. Well, Dan thought it was his mother. She had lost the vague, lost look she had about her most of the time and everything soft and fuzzy about her had turned wild and sharp. The woman standing before them in dark blue robes that pooled around her feet may have looked like Dianna Grantham, but she most certainly wasn’t the woman who raised Dan. Then she locked eyes with Dan and her face filled with the warmth Dan remembered from his childhood. “Daniel, my darling boy, I have done you a disservice, I’m afraid,” she said, opening her arms wide for a hug.
In a deep stupor, Dan stumbled his way into her embrace. Suddenly the years washed away and he was the same scared little boy who had clung to his mother after being found in the woods alone. “M-Mum?”
“Excuse me, but mum? Who even is this lady?” Chris asked brusquely, crossing his arms. “I hate to break up this reunion, but we’ve got an army to hide from and an Elder to find so either help or-”
“Chris, shut up,” Phil interrupted, staring at Dan and his mother in awe. He then sunk to his knee and said, “It’s an honor to see you again, Lady le Fay.” Dan almost let out a hysterical giggle when he saw PJ, Chris and Louise’s eyes almost pop out of their sockets before sinking to kneeling positions like Phil.
“You always were a charmer, Philip,” she laughed. “Stand, all of you. I need to thank you for protecting my son.
“I’m afraid he’s not out of danger quite yet, my lady,” Phil said. “There is a hoard of Pixies coming this way and we need to remove Dan’s Mark before they get here.”
“That won’t be necessary,” she dismissed.
“But, my lady-”
“Philip, take a look at Daniel. A good, hard look. Let go of what you think is best and just look at him.”
So Phil did. He looked at Dan and at first he only saw the beautiful man he’d always been, but then he began to notice something. Dan was glowing. He’d been glowing since his first day in the Realm, but Phil had assumed it was just from laughter and such. But no, that wasn’t it at all. Dan was literally surrounded by a soft golden glow that only got stronger the longer Phil stared at it. And at the brightest point was a pair of - no, it couldn’t be. “Dan, you’re transforming! Lady le Fay, please, we need your help. I know you don’t participate in our lives anymore, but please make an exception for your son. We have to remove that Mark so I can take Dan home. I’ll do anything.”
“Anything you say?” Dianna, or Morgan? asked with a clever smile twisting across her face. “And if I asked for your wings in return?”
Four gasps sounded. Dan’s brow crumpled in worry. “Phil, don’t-”
“Done,” Phil said without a moment’s hesitation. “Just please help him.”
Morgan smiled. “I have helped him,” she said. “I sent him you, didn’t I? That’s more help than he probably knew what to do with.”
There was the loud crack of a dry leaf behind them and the rustle of several people moving in the same direction. Phil looked about at the end of his rope, and he looked more angry than Dan could have ever thought possible. “Remove the damn Mark,” he snarled. “I’ve messed up enough with him and I’m not about to lose him to some damn Pixies because the one person who could help him decided she’d rather be cryptic rather than useful.”
“No.” But the denial didn’t come from Morgan. Phil looked up at Dan helplessly and Dan was willing to do most anything to make sure he never looked like that again. “Phil, it’s okay, just let it happen. I want it to happen.”
“But- but Carrie, Mrs. D, the flower shop,” Phil sputtered. “What about them?”
Dan shrugged. “You seem to know how to pass back and forth easily. Promise you’ll take me to visit?”
“But what about your life?”
Dan walked forwards to stand in front of him and grabbed his hands. “But I’m happy here, Phil. Don’t you get it? Just let it happen.”
“There’s no going back from this, Dan,” Phil warned.
“Good,” Dan beamed before leaning forward to press a kiss to Phil’s cheek.
In that moment Phil threw his arms around Dan in a tight hug and Dan burst into light. When the light faded they were standing there in each other’s arms, but Phil definitely felt something that hadn’t been there before. He pulled back to beam at Dan but just saw a panicked face. “Dan, what’s wrong?”
“I left every light in my flat on. Do you know what kind of power bill that’s gonna make?”
Phil collapsed to the ground in relief, laughing so hard tears rolled down his cheeks. He may or may not have pulled Dan down along with him so they were lying in a tangled happy pile of limbs and wings.
“Well, I guess being Morgan le Fay’s kid is a pretty good reason for Pixies to be after you,” PJ decided as the five of them gathered around a tiny table at what Dan could only imagine was a Fairy Starbucks. (And holy shit, if he thought Fairy food was good before it was nothing compared to what it tasted like after he actually was a Fairy.)
“Did we ever find out what the Pixies wanted with me?” Dan asked, sipping lightly on his drink.
Phil shrugged next to him and they were sitting so close that Dan’s body was dragged along with the movement of the shoulder. “I’m just glad Lady le Fay banished them.”
“Do you think she’ll ever come back?” Louise asked. “After all, she is Dan’s mother. Surely she won’t just leave.”
“She’s done it before,” Dan frowned. “I don’t see why this time would be any different. Besides, I have you guys to teach me how to be a Fairy.”
“Trust me, you don’t need any help being a fairy,” Chris quipped. “Your boyfriend there says it loud and clear.” Dan threw that last few sips of his drink at Chris’s head. Louise didn’t stop him.
“You will teach me how to visit Carrie and Mrs. D, right?” Dan asked, looking right at Phil who turned his head so they were nose to nose.
“Of course. We’ll have to wait a little while for your wand to develop before you can do it on your own,” they ignored Chris snickering. “I’ll take you at first.”
Dan grinned and looked around at the five people sitting with him. It wasn’t exactly what he had planned when he first started out his adulthood, but Dan was pretty sure he was more than happy with where his life was going.
He was happy.