Will Stanton is the oldest of the Old Ones now. He wonders sometimes if Merriman felt as he does, like a concerned father and a general all at once to this new cycle of guardians. (He has never had any children, of course; not of his own flesh. Bran has had several, and Will watches his descendants with both his own affection and the sharp eye of the Light.)
The Old Ones these days are very different from the generation that bore Will; he still keeps the Book to teach them, but its form has changed from parchment and leather to holo and sound, though the magic it teaches is just the same. They are more numerous these days, and yet still more spread out; some of them were born on other worlds, and a few are of other species entirely.
Will sometimes shakes his head over the changes, and the Lady laughs at him. (Sometimes he does it just to make her laugh. There is far too little levity some days, and he feels the need to remind her of that part of her that once was free, and young, and human. Jane, Jana, Juno, Jane.)
The Dark is different, too. Will has seen many servants rise and fall, their ranks more changeable than his own. These days, their leader flies a sleek and powerful ship that howls through a void that should not allow that, and leaves chaos in its wake. But his eyes still glint blue, and Will wonders if the continuity of chaos is as disjointed as it seems.
Though the battlefield may be larger, though, and the participants different, the struggle remains the same. The youngest of the Old Ones has not yet been born, but Will prepares for her, sets aside the Signs and artifacts that she will need to banish the Dark once more in turn. He hopes that the final battle will come to pass on Earth; he prefers to remain there, set in his ways in a manner he'd have scoffed at himself for, years ago.
It is partly nostalgia, he thinks. Partly habit. And partly this: other worlds may be lovely, but they can't hold a candle to the most wonderful thing in the universe to him.
He would say that duty keeps him close, a loyal servant of the Pendragon, but lies are too often tools of the Dark, and he strives to avoid them when he can.
He sometimes wonders if Merriman felt for Arthur as he feels for Bran. But there are some things even he knows are none of his business.
* * * *
The Light wiped clean the memory of Bran Davies when he had fulfilled his purpose in the war. Easier to live among men, to learn what he needed, without the memory of the past distracting him
The Light may have been done with him, but the High Magic was not.
Bran's life is a good and happy one. Bran's life is full of strife and sorrow. Bran has had many lives. He remembers them all, in the moments between them.
He is the Pendragon, champion of the Light. But he knows that balance is necessary; that life occasionally needs Dark as well. He wonders if that is what he was meant to learn, living as he does. He remembers his father, sitting between an Old One and a Lord of Chaos.
Whatever it is, he is not done learning yet. Something in him knows this, and so he yields to the magic, lets it wash over him and sink the memories down deep each time. And in that moment between, suffused by the High Magic, he sends his thoughts to the Lady he knows will guard them well – Just a little longer, Jenny-o. Give my love to Will.
The server grins and winks as she sets his plate down. He chuckles and shakes his head; she's young enough to be his daughter, if he'd had one. It's flattering, though, and rather nice to know he can still turn heads. He calls up the news as he eats, his eyes flicking over the latest UKA initiatives before he gives up and adjusts it to the music feed. There's a concert tomorrow night he's been thinking of going to, and that's a much more pleasant thought than politics.
In the flicker between feeds, he catches sight of a man watching him. His face looks familiar, though he can't quite place it. Grey eyes, brown hair mixed with grey – no enhancement, then, unless the man is trying for painfully normal. It's a good face, though; lean with a hint of roundness in the cheeks, pleasant, faintly smiling. The man catches him looking back, and the smile turns rueful before he looks away.
Curiosity piqued, he stands and walks over, bringing his food with him. The man's expression changes to one of faint dismay, but he stays where he is.
* * * *
"Is this seat taken, then?" Bran asks, and Will hides a grimace, smiling instead.
"Not at all, though I'm just leaving now, I'm afraid."
"English?" Bran asks, and Will finds himself torn between amusement and nostalgia.
"Ah, a mystery man."
The confident grin hasn't changed much in all these years, no more so than the white hair and the expressive golden eyes. Will has seen others these days with similar hues, from modification or Bran's own genetics, but only ever one as fierce and magical, and Herne was never so beautiful.
"Nothing so interesting as a mystery," Will says with a smile. He gathers his things to leave. Really, he should not have lingered so long, but when Vailanda Smith had given word Bran was back in Wales, he'd been unable to resist. And once he'd seen him, even less so.
"Nothing as interesting as people-watching, yeah? Or is it only me?" Bran asks, his smile turning sly.
Will chuckles. "Sorry. You remind of an old friend."
"Oh? Good memories, I hope? And not too good a friend?"
Will blinks at his warm expression and puts it together with the question, and by the Light, is Bran flirting with him? Not that it would be the first time, but after the heartbreak of having a Bran who wasn't the Pendragon, who didn't know him, Will had sworn off the experience until he had his own back. "Very good memories," he allows. "And a very good friend." He smiles apologetically. "Have a good day."
He never goes back to that cafe.
* * * *
In the space between time, between lives, Bran remembers everything. Recalls the boys they were together, he and Will, and the lovers they were later, and the near-miss of a man in a cafe one day that he thought was interesting. He knows the roles they are destined for, his dewin and him. He pauses, the magic moving over and around him like a current around a stone. He pauses and thinks, and then he is no longer alone.
"Bran," the Lady says, and her voice is the laughter of the river of magic and the deep echo of the stone. "Will you be moving on, Pendragon?"
"…maybe. Lady, can you tell me – is he happy? Is he lonely?"
"Yes." Her voice is warm as though she smiles. "It's the nature of life, even for Old Ones, isn't it?" She hums in thought. "Perhaps especially for them. Do you think he will never be happy if you return to the magic? That he will never be lonely if you remain?"
Bran growls in frustration."What would you have me do, then?"
"I would have you do what you must." Her voice grows more solemn, resonating through him. "Your life is your own, as much as it can be, Lord. I give no advice or instructions. Ask yourself: have you learned all that you need? Have you accomplished what you set out to? Are you ready to take your place and power?"
* * * *
Will nods and thanks his class, watching as the holos of the remote students wink out one by one and the locals walk out chattering amongst themselves. He resets the podium for the next lecturer and wanders back to his office, but his step falters when he sees the door open a crack. He clenches a fist as he readies himself for whatever it might mean, and pushes his way in.
"It's cheating really, isn't it?"
Will stops dead at the sight – a figure standing there, looking at his books and data sticks as if nothing is amiss. A figure with white hair and pale skin offset by dark clothing. Then Bran turns and looks at him expectantly, and his heart seizes in his chest.
"Cheating?" he asks. He should probably know what that means, but he can't think at this moment of anything else.
"History." Bran shrugs, then turns toward him, leaning against the shelves."I mean, it's not like you have to study, is it?"
"Bran?" It must be; he can see it in the way he holds himself, the way he speaks, as much as in his words. But after so long, it's difficult to conceive of.
Bran's face softens just a little. "I've been gone a while, haven't I?"
"A while," Will agrees.
"I won't apologize." Bran shrugs. "I needed to learn a lot of things. Not book-learning like you have, but learning about people, about life."
"Yes," Will agrees again. He steps closer, almost close enough to touch. "And have you learned everything you needed to?"
Bran laughs, bright and chiming, the best music Will's heard in some time. "I've learned if I wait until I learn everything, I'll still be learning when the Light and Dark and all are gone for good. There's no stopping it." He steps forward, takes Will's hand. "I thought I'd best start learning about other things now. I thought maybe we could teach each other. If you're up for it, that is." His smile is challenge and warmth at once.
Will steps in, settles his head on Bran's shoulder, and sighs when Bran returns the gesture. He closes his eyes and smiles. The Pendragon has returned.