It was snowing, the night Raleigh met Yancy.
The forest was dead silent, the shelling stopped for a few hours, as if the Germans needed sleep as badly as their battered American opponents. Pinned down, with relief nowhere in sight, Raleigh’s company had dug meager shelters for themselves, cutting slight safety out of the frozen earth, between tree roots and behind fallen logs. Their lieutenant seemed to be losing his mind, the first sergeant the only thing holding morale together, and the cold smothering any of the studiously indifferent banter that had kept them going since Normandy.
Raleigh had grown up in Alaska, in the snow and the darkness.
Bastogne was the easily the most miserable he’d ever been in his life.
At least in Alaska you could light a fire.
A fire would have been lovely. But the first sergeant had given strict orders about it.
Why had he forged his dad’s signature on his enlistement paperwork, again? Why had it been so important to him to come fight this stupid war?
Raleigh was drifting in the cold, under his buddy’s blood soaked jacket (not that his buddy needed it after this afternoon; hopefully somebody would be by in the morning to deal with the body), wondering if it was worth eating some of the half-frozen beans from his ruck, when he saw it.
A glow. Through the trees. Flickering.
Raleigh could smell the smoke. No cordite, that. That was wood smoke.
Shit. The black-out must have been cancelled. Were the Germans retreating? Was the siege lifted? Or were some of the guy just fucking around and about to get in a whole mess of trouble?
Either way, it was a fire, and Raleigh desperately needed to warm up.
With not a small amount of effort, he forced his frozen limbs to uncurl and drag him out of his shallow hole, up onto the snowy ground above. He slung his M1 down into a fighting position, adjusting the strap along his shoulder so his numb fingers wouldn’t drop it.
Moving became easier as the blood started flowing again, at least. But he was more cold-addled than he realized, because it didn’t seem like he could plot a straight course to that glow. It seemed to be moving, weaving in and out of the trees, drawing him deeper into the dark heart of the forest, away from their line. It had to be away, he figured, because he saw nobody else from his unit along the way.
He knew he was nearing when voices started rising to his ears, happy and jovial, they seemed, and Raleigh realized they were singing. He couldn’t make out the words, nor the tune, but there were flutes and horns and something that sounded like a harp, and the smell of that smoke was sweet and warm, and...
Then he stepped into the light.
He was dreaming.
He had to be dreaming.
He had stumbled into a clearing, perfectly round it seemed, and marked on the edge by a series of small standing stones. The pines here rose taller than anywhere else in the forest, grand and proud, the green depths lit as if with candles. Tables of raw hewn wood groaned with food of all kind, a whole roast boar at the center, an apple in its tusked mouth. A bonfire burned gold in a stone pit in the center of the clearing, but the flame was silent, the heat not touching the fluffy snow that carpeted the floor. Raleigh could hear the music still but there was nothing there to produce it, not even a record player.
“I see somebody heard our merriment,” a male voice said, and Raleigh started to see a man standing by the fire. A man dressed very strangely, but not for the cold, like the illustrations of the medieval lords in Maman’s old books, golds and silks and buttery leather. “And such a handsome boy at that.”
His rifle was up in a flash, battle-hardened instinct overtaking the sheer shock of the sight around him. “Who are you? What’s going on here?”
The man stepped forward, despite the weapon. “Poor knight from the New World,” he crooned, laying a hand on the barrel, pushing it down, moving fully into Raleigh’s space. “Poor boy, home to his mother’s country for the first time, to fight a war her people had no stomach for.”
Raleigh couldn’t move. “How’d you know my mother is French?” he asked faintly. The music was swelling again, and he couldn’t think, he couldn’t think at all.
“Your heart beats out your story, Raleigh Becket,” the man said, and laid a hand over Raleigh’s left breast, as if to prove the point. Every finger on his hand had a ring on it, his hair was ringed with a wrought circlet of gold, and the shine off the jewels was blinding. “It speaks very loudly.”
Raleigh tried to shake it off, but his head was pounding. That music was turning wild. He couldn’t stand much more of it; he felt as if he would break down in uncontrollable laughter or tears at any moment. “I...my unit, I can’t...”
The man tightened his grip on Raleigh’s rifle. “Come and warm yourself, my little human knight. It is Midwinter’s Eve, after all, a time for feasting and celebration, not frostbite and death.” A young woman appeared at Raleigh’s side, steaming goblets in hand, and the man nodded at her. “Share a mulled wine with me, at least, before you go back to your war.”
“O-Okay,” Raleigh stammered.
The man smiled at him. A genuine, real, sweet smile.
Under that hand, Raleigh felt his heart speed, that old sick need stirring in him again.
It was his last clear recollection of the night.
From out of nowhere, it seemed as if the forest feast hall was filled with people, dancing and singing, wild nonsense words that meant nothing and yet filled Raleigh with joy. The food was delicious, beyond any description or experience his Alaska childhood could supply, the wine strong and sweet, and the whole time, the man who had welcomed him was with him.
There was more wine, and more dancing, the stars moving bright across the sky above, and then his man took him by the hand and led him away from the music, away from the feast and down warm dark halls, into a wide chamber carved out of the living earth, lit with more of that strange candlelight that filled the trees outside. Snow was falling through a pillar of moonlight onto a bed of furs that his man, still smiling, pushed Raleigh down onto.
“Give yourself to me,” the man whispered in his ear, lips brushing across his skin in the promise of a kiss. “Let me strip this blood-drenched grief from you, my brave, handsome little knight, and you shall have pleasure beyond any of your dreams.”
“I don’t even know your name.”
“I am prince of my people, and I am offering you a place at my side. What more could you possibly need to know about me?”
Dad had tried to beat this out of him. Raleigh knew he shouldn’t. It was wrong and dirty and disgusting, but perhaps because it of the music or the wine or the fact that none of this was real at all, he still looped an arm around the man’s neck, and kissed him.
“I suppose you did take me out dancing,” he chuckled.
The man smiled, and kissed him back.
Sense fled after that.
Raleigh had never felt so filled in all his young life.
But when he woke in the morning, he woke shivering. Not in that wondrous bed of furs in the moonlight. In the woods, in the snow, yes, but not in his trench either. Gone was his friend’s body, and his rifle, and the extra jacket, and his rucksack with its half-frozen cans of beans.
No. It was to the sound of sirens, on cold asphalt, in the middle of a parking lot full of cars whose body styles he didn’t recognize in the slightest.
He woke in a parking lot, yes, but not a parking lot in 1944. The nearest diner he stumbled into had unbelievable prices - two dollars for a cup of coffee, not that he had any money in his tattered old uniform - but plenty of newspapers. It must have been a slow morning, for the waitress let him have a back booth and a couple of day-old donuts for free, and a copy of the New York Times.
2014, it said the date was. December 23rd, 2014.
It would have seemed impossible, if not for the extraordinary changes his body had gone through. He was feeble and old, limbs sapped of all strength, paper thin skin sallow and hanging and covered in blood bruises. Born in 1927, he would have been 87 - was 87 - in 2014, and somehow, he had aged every one of those years without remembering a damn thing of any of it.
One of the diner staff suggested the emergency room at the local hospital, which was fine for a night, except the doctors didn’t seem to buy his story about the forest halls and made mention of putting him into something called inpatient therapy. He left as soon as he was able ,but cold as it was, he didn’t get very far before a nice police officer - dispatched by the emergency room staff, he found out later - found him and bundled him up in the back of the squad car and took him to the nearest homeless shelter.
It was a hideous place. Nowhere Raleigh wanted to be, where people all seemed to be either insane or hopped up on drugs. He got a parka from that place, and thought to wander off on his own, figure something out that didn’t involve living on another person’s charity. He had no money, though, no family to call on for help - he had been an only child, like his parents were - and no identification. He was too old to work, too old to move much at all, and everything hurt.
So all he could do was drift. Back and forth between this future version of Anchorage’s poorest areas, staying here one night and there another, nobody willing to listen to his stories about Bastogne or the forest hall, nobody giving some ancient old man any heed at all.
He hated it.
He hated the entire world.
What had happened to him?
There was a large library downtown, within walking distance of a few of the church-run soup kitchens that gave him food and asked no questions. Raleigh could barely read any longer, his vision as worn and useless as the rest of him, but still he tried. Spent days upon days there, looking for any information on his predicament that he could find. But he barely knew what he was looking for, and the entire catalogue was on some fancy new-fangled system called a computer that he couldn’t hardly use. Going through the sections by hand, on his own, was exhausting.
At least the place was warm.
He dreamed of his prince at night. Every night.
It seemed more real, that place. A warm, happy place, where he was still young and there was nothing at all to worry about. Where that prince touched him with such tenderness he often woke to the sound of his own sobs. But it couldn’t be real. Nobody believed him, and besides, it was impossible.
How could he be eighteen and dying in a war one week, and old and dying of natural causes the next? Halfway around the world?
Things went on like that for months, months of Anchorage’s bitter winter. Short days filled with a desperate search for enough to eat, for information to tell him how this had happened to him, nights taken up by the obsession to stay warm. Sometimes he could find a warm bed at a shelter, but sometimes he couldn’t, and by March, he thought he had figured out how to best his chances there.
But even with that, he didn’t always win.
“I’m sorry, we just don’t have anything tonight. Every bed’s filled up.”
“Surely you have something. It’s deathly cold outside...”
“And that’s why we’re full up.”
“But I’ve tried everywhere else,” he pleaded desperately with the woman behind the reinforced glass. “Everywhere’s full, even the hospital.”
“I can’t let you sleep in the lobby,” she told him, as if that would be his next question. “I can’t do it. It’s against policy. You’re going to have to find somewhere else to go.”
“I’ll die out there!” he protested, hating how weak his voice was, that he could barely lift his head to look at her.
“You’re not the only person who’s got hard times here, sir. I’ve got families in right now,” she snapped, like that settled it.
And Raleigh was trying to think of some kind of comeback when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
“I’ve got this, Laura. I’ll take him somewhere.”
“Thanks, Yance,” she grumbled, and waved Raleigh away.
Raleigh looked up at his would-be rescuer, and started.
This guy, he looked...
“Something wrong there?”
“No,” Raleigh stammered. “You, uhh, just look like somebody.”
The guy smiled. Painfully sweet, although Raleigh was sure it wasn’t meant to be.
His prince wasn’t real. And even if he was, that was a lifetime and a world away.
“Well, how about you get you somewhere you can get some sleep, eh? And maybe a hot shower?”
Unable to say anything, for fear of what might come out, Raleigh nodded.
The guy took him not to a shelter, but a private apartment. It wasn’t a big place, little more than a single room studio, but studiously neat, with a line of potted herbs under a sun lamp taking up the bulk of the counter space in the small kitchen, a big rosemary bush on the floor. For some reason, that detail stuck out in Raleigh’s mind, staring at that bush as the guy set him down on the edge of the bed. Talking. Talking, but about what, Raleigh couldn’t tell. It all seemed very far away.
All he could think about was that night. That singular, beautiful night.
And burst into tears.
“I shouldn’t need help,” Raleigh sighed, and looked at his hands, with their unbroken, unbruised skin, the strength that used to be there. Under the furs, he was naked too, and his body ached in the most delicious way. Had they made love? He couldn’t remember it. “I don’t understand any of this.”
“You would have frozen to death, had that boy not picked you up.”
“Why should I care about that?” he asked bitterly. “I’ve lost my entire life. Why shouldn’t I freeze to death on some street somewhere?”
“I would miss you.”
“Fuck you. You did this to me.”
The prince just laughed, and kissed him.
He woke with a start to the smell of fresh coffee being brewed in the kitchen, behind that forest of herbs.
“Want some breakfast?” the guy called up over the top of it.
“I don’t want to trouble you...”
“If I didn’t want the trouble, I wouldn’t have brought you home,” the guy replied, obviously busy with pulling things out of the icebox. “Eggs, toast and bacon sound okay? I’ve been waiting for the right occasion to break into that.”
It took Raleigh a while to ease out of bed; he was unsteady on his feet anyway, and he had grown too accustomed to sleeping on the hard ground to tolerate the give of a real mattress. He managed okay, tottering over to the small table on the edge of the kitchen. The guy set a cup of coffee down in front of him with a smile.
It was definitely the prince’s smile.
Raleigh wondered, for the first time, if he actually might be insane.
“Anything for that? Cream, sugar? Or what passes for cream and sugar these days?”
Raleigh shook his head. Rationing. They still had rationing, and he didn’t quite know why. Another thing he didn’t want to ask about. “Had plenty of bad coffee in France. I’m fine, thank you.”
“France, huh? When were you there?”
“World War II? That was a bad one. So you’re a vet, huh?”
“What’s your name?”
“You can call me Yancy,” the guy replied. It sounded like he was smiling, but Raleigh couldn’t look at him. “Everyone else does. And you are?”
“Well, Raleigh Becket, World War Two vet, it’s nice to meet you. How do you like your eggs?”
Yancy, Raleigh found out, was a crab fisherman, but worked security jobs in the off season. He was the daytime supervisor at the Lutheran shelter, where Raleigh had been trying to get a bed the night before, but there are a lot of other good places in town, I’ll make some calls for you today, okay?
Raleigh just nodded and half-listened to the stream of words coming out of Yancy, stoically eating his breakfast. It was the first real food, the first meal he’d had cooked for him, since the last time he’d gotten a 48 hour pass in London. It was good, but that realization kind of killed it for him.
“So what’s your story?”
“I’m delusional,” Raleigh muttered.
“You said I reminded you of somebody. What’s that about?”
“You remind me of somebody I met in France. During the war,” Raleigh said, and when it was clear Yancy was waiting for more, he added, “somebody I...”
“Someone you loved,” Yancy finished for him.
Raleigh curled up, dropping his fork. It was too much of an effort, holding it anyway. “I didn’t say that.”
“Man, it’s 2015. There’s no shame in that. It’s even legal to get married now and everything.”
Raleigh felt a tear threatening in the corner of his eye; he hated this, feeling so weak and raw and vulnerable all the time. Why couldn’t he have just died in Bastogne? Why hadn’t his prince just left him to freeze to death?
“Hey, hey, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I was just curious, if I look like the guy.”
Wiping his face with a wrinkled hand, Raleigh shook his head. “You’re nothing like him.”
“You’re not selfish.”
Yancy looked down, and then pushed back. “I’ll get a towel and some clean clothes for you,” he said quietly, picking his half-eaten plate of food up. “If you want to take a shower when you’re done. And then we can find you a better place to stay, eh?”
It didn’t occur to Raleigh until much later - after he had finished, and showered, and gotten dressed in a clean, if worn set of clothes that Yancy had grabbed for him from the shelter stocks - that Yancy had seemed a little uncomfortable.
But then, it probably wasn’t every day some ancient old codger told you he’d been in love with a guy who looked like you.
That’s probably all it was.
Nursing homes. Nursing homes, they said. Where people these days stashed their elderly family, instead of taking care of them themselves. But he had no family, so he was grateful for the service.
The doctors there were convinced that he’d gone through some kind of trauma out there in the woods where that park ranger had found him. A stroke, a head injury, something like that, they said. Something had caused the amnesia.
Raleigh learned real quick not to talk about his prince, that night in the forest. The first time he mentioned it to one of the head-docs they kept dragging in front of him, they’d tried to triple the number of pills they were giving him. Obviously, it was insane - of course it was - and he couldn’t remember it clearly anyway, so he shut up about it. Just nodded and tried to be honest about what he remembered. Not that it made a difference. Everyone was mystified.
At least they could find him in the VA system. They were able to confirm that yes, a Raleigh Becket had been born in Anchorage in 1927, that he had enlisted at age 16 in 1943, that he’d been listed as KIA in France, 1944. No body recovered. Obviously a mistake, but there was no further record of him.
The place was strapped for cash, and hardly in good condition, but they had gotten him a room, and he was grateful for that. There were three squares a day here, and plenty of other old farts like him, who remembered the same places, the same battles and the same music.
He was living on charity, which rankled him, had nowhere to go, and had nothing to his name but it was peaceful at least. No war, not any more. He never watched the news on those ridiculous, ubiquitous television sets that were everywhere these days. He couldn’t figure out how to use the computer, so he didn’t. He still dreamed of the forest every night, but could never hold onto the details of those dreams after he woke. It could have been a slow slide into death, meaningless but quiet.
Except for Yancy.
Yancy, it turned out, had a few shifts a week at the VA as well, as an orderly or handiman or some such nonsense. He was rather aloof with everyone else, but Raleigh didn’t care, because the fisherman had taken quite an interest in him. Always coming by, always taking time to talk to him, sometimes bringing little gifts of chocolate or fresh herbs or a fresh deck of playing cards. He listened to Raleigh’s stupid war stories, and didn’t laugh at him when, pressing for details about your French guy, Raleigh told him about the forest.
“Nobody believes me, of course...”
“I do,” Yancy said, and shrugged. “Why wouldn’t I?”
Yancy was probably just humoring him, which was both irritating and gratifying. At least somebody cared enough to pretend.
There was somebody else who came by, in May, interested in that story.
Raleigh couldn’t figure out if she was pretending or not.
“They said you wanted to talk to me, ma’am, but they didn’t tell me why.”
She was a serious woman with coke-bottle glasses, a breed of dame that Raleigh hadn’t known from his own youth in Anchorage. The professional academic. Not many of those around in the 1930s. Everybody was too busy surviving to care about learning.
“You can call me Caitlin.”
“Seems a little familiar,” he said bluntly.
She smiled. “How about Doctor Lightcap?”
“I can work with that.”
“Anyway, yes, Mr. Becket, thank you, umm... I ran across your file, and I had a few questions.”
“Why do you have my file?”
“Actually, one of my pilot trainees, Herc Hansen, mentioned your case. He volunteers here at the VA sometimes on the weekends. Big red-haired Aussie?”
Raleigh shook his head. He didn’t know the guy, and said so. But then, he tried to stay away from everybody but Yancy. Made things easier.
“He said, when you first showed up, you spoke about a man in the woods, back in Bastogne. That you were there, at some kind of festival, and then found yourself here the next day.”
“I was suffering from delirium, obviously. They said it’s amnesia...”
“Do you believe it’s amnesia?”
“What else could it be?”
She hesitated. “Normally I would not entertain this notion, but we are looking at the Kaiju and the multi-dimensional nature of the Breach...”
“Of what?” he frowned. Kaiju. He had heard that before, but he did not know where.
“Do you watch the news, Mister Becket?”
“Not if I can help it.”
“Well, I... umm, anyway, considering the Kaiju, I feel it worth asking you. Do you believe that event in the woods happened?”
“They couldn’t have.”
“They line up extraordinarily well with some of the older folktales from Celtic, and later Christian, cultures in the region...”
“Mister Becket, fairies were said to steal humans away to their festivals, have a night or two of fun with them, and then eject them back into the real world, years, sometimes decades later. Aging takes place... everything you experienced.”
“Fairies? I thought they said you were a serious scientist,” Raleigh scoffed.
“Time is said to run different in the fairy palaces, and given the nature of that and their movement, it’s analogous to what we’re seeing with the structure of the Breach...”
“There are no such things as fairies, lady,” Raleigh snapped, and taking a firm grip on Yancy, stood unsteadily. “Are you done? I’d like to get back my amnesia now.”
It didn’t stop Raleigh from wondering, though. He tried to ignore it. Fairies. Fairies? What the fuck were those? Those little fluttering flower things from Maman’s old books? None of the people he’d seen that night had looked like that; his prince hadn’t been girlish or flowery in the slightest.
He asked Yancy about it.
“Could you show me how to use the computer?” he asked one afternoon, when Yancy dropped by to visit.
“I want to see what happened with the war,” he lied. “Library’s a bit thin here.”
“I would think of anything, they’d have war stuff in the library here,” Yancy said, but helped him down the hall to the little computer lab anyway.
The Internet, Raleigh found out, was a disgusting pit of depravity and lies, but at least he was able to find enough information that evening on Celtic folktales to confirm what Doctor Lightcap had told him about. Fairies stealing humans away for a few hours of frivolity, for that human to find themselves cast far in the future.
“Why are you asking about fairies?” his prince asked him that night, in their room, point blank.
“Is that what you are?”
“There are many kinds of Fae, dear Raleigh.”
“Does it matter?”
“We aren’t all like that.”
“So this is your fault. Me, like this, you did this to me. You made me old. You made me love you, and then you threw me away. You stole my life! Why did you do this to me!?”
The prince said nothing.
Raleigh woke up.
Yancy didn’t come by again for a week.
And when he did finally come back, the computer lab went offline for a month.
Apparently, there was some war on with giant alien sea monsters.
No wonder that researcher hadn’t thought much of asking him about fairies.
Terrible as it was, it was quite far from Anchorage and his body likely wouldn’t last much longer anyway. Raleigh didn’t worry much about it. Whenever death came, at least it would be fast. He could barely walk anymore - he’d had a bad fall in April, and with the swelling still not down in his knee, had resorted to a walker.
At least Yancy didn’t mind the slow pace.
“I love this time of year,” Yancy commented, one fine afternoon in June, as they were shuffling along the small running trail behind the VA facility proper. “Sun shining, the days long. Almost to Midsummer’s Eve.”
The phrasing of it was strange, and it was one of those many small things that irked Raleigh’s mind. Like a tickle, trying to remember. Things weren’t so good upstairs anymore, either. Whatever small grace he’d had, moving from eighteen to eighty seem to be failing him now. “What happens on Midsummer’s Eve?”
“Oh, lots of things. The earth’s very alive on the longest day of the year. It’s very awake. Very interested in us.” He touched Raleigh’s elbow, and pointed. “Lots of magic. Like that, over there.”
Raleigh squinted at what the fisherman was pointing at, but he could barely make it out. The staff had gotten him a cheap pair of reading glasses, but there didn’t seem to be much in the budget for getting an old man a decent pair of distance lenses. “I can’t see it.”
“Fairy ring, almost grown in. Mushrooms, you see. In a circle. It’s always fun to see those come alive,” Yancy said, hand warm on Raleigh’s elbow.
It was hard to resist the urge to lean into it. Raleigh’s body was physically incapable of sustaining any kind of erection (and he had, to his shame, tried more than once since waking in that parking lot), but it didn’t mean there wasn’t still some of the boy in him. One night. That’s all he’d gotten. One encounter, one time having sex, and it was probably all a hallucination anyway. But Yancy was here and real and very handsome and kind, so kind to some old man who’d never amounted to anything for the world...
“You’re swaying a bit there, Raleigh. Why don’t we sit down?”
Yancy had brought a blanket and their lunches out with them, laughing about having a proper picnic, and even though it hurt his bad knee dreadfully to sit down in the shade at the edge of the small meadow, Raleigh was more than happy to, if it meant Yancy sticking around for a little while longer. They ate in silence, egg salad sandwiches that tasted better than normal, mushy food he didn’t have to work too hard to chew. It was warm outside, the air sweet, none of the usual noise from the traffic or the hospital or even insects. Really, he could have died happy, right there, sitting on the grass, doing nothing, worrying about nothing.
And then Yancy pulled out a flask.
“I know the staff says we’re not supposed to bring in alcohol,” he said breezily, unscrewing the top, “but I had a craving for this stuff and brewed myself up a batch last night. Would you like some?”
Something in the smell was familiar, but Raleigh couldn’t place it. “Booze, huh?”
“The family’s secret recipe.” Yancy handed it over. “I think you’ll like it.”
That smell was absolutely familiar, but Raleigh didn’t know it until he took a sip.
Mulled wine. Warm mulled wine.
The same wine from the forest. Unmistakable. Impossible
But the man sitting next to him wasn’t Yancy anymore. He had a gold circlet in his hair, and his ears...
Raleigh’s hands started trembling, then shaking uncontrollably. All strength lost, the flask tumbled out to glug its cherry-red contents all over the blanket, his pants, his slippers, and he ground his palms into his eyes. “No, no no,” he moaned, curling in on himself. “No, no, I can’t...”
“Raleigh, listen to me.”
“No, oh god, no, please, no.”
“Listen,” and Yancy, the prince, whoever the hell he was, took both Raleigh’s hand in his own, forcing them down, “if you ever felt a shred of affection for me, listen to me now.”
Taking a deep breath, Raleigh shook his head. “You talk, you talk like we were lovers. For years.”
“It was one night.”
“That you remember.” Yancy let go of his hand to touch his cheek instead.
“The Internet said... fairies use glamour and lies...”
“And while that is true, I’m Sidhe, not some garden-variety fairy. And this is no lie. I took you into my court.” Yancy’s eyes shifted, as if searching his face for a reaction. “It was far more than one night. Haven’t you heard me, speaking to you in your dreams?”
“They’re just dreams.”
“All this world is a dream, my love.”
“Stop calling me that!” Raleigh had never felt more helpless in his life. “I barely know you!”
“Fine,” and Yancy let go. “If you believe I am some selfish prince who had you for a bit of fun one snowy night in Bastogne, you are free to think it. But I am here, far from my own lands and my own people, for you. Surely that must count for something.”
“Depends on what you want.”
“Why must I want something?”
Yancy breathed out, long and slow. “Of course. And I do.”
“It grieves me, what’s happened to you. I would restore the youth you have lost in my lands, give it back to you. Midsummer’s Eve, I can perform the spell. Over there.” He nodded at the fairy ring. “When it is done growing.”
Raleigh stared at it, then back at the prince. In his sight, the blond was shifting between harried orderly and immortal prince; it was hard to tell which was the reality. Glamour and lies. Which was it? “In exchange for what? My soul?”
“I have no use for souls.”
“But I do need a co-pilot.”
“A co-pilot for what?”
What affects you affects us. We have fought in your wars before, when it seemed necessary. This one is especially desperate.
Perhaps it was insane to agree. There had to be other terms, conditions, some issue that Raleigh could not predict. But he was tired of living in an ancient body, tired of hurting, tired of being tired.
In the end, he accepted.
There was no other alternative. He didn’t much feel like killing himself. And he’d already signed up to fight one war, one he’d hardly done much of anything in. Perhaps this was penance for leaving his post that terrible, beautiful night.
The spell had to be performed at midnight, in the unending light of the nighttime sun. Yancy said he had a few things to prepare, so Raleigh had to make his way out to the ring on his own, painful step by painful step.
The only stipulation was that Raleigh couldn’t wear shoes.
Maybe Yancy has just trying to strengthen his resolve to go through with it. By the time he reached the small meadow, his body was in so much pain, he doubted he had the strength left in it to flee if he wanted to.
“Doesn’t look like you prepared much at all,” Raleigh commented, looking at the ring. The mushrooms had grown in, tall and smooth, but other than that, there was surprisingly little there. Just Yancy, dressed in white, cross-legged and barefoot on the grass, and a small open dish of incense, burning by his knee.
“Come to me, my knight,” he said, holding out a hand. “Leave that damn walker and come see what I’ve prepared for you.”
Unsteady, Raleigh managed to stumble into the circle without hitting any of the fragile caps, feet brushing through the grass without lifting much at all. Yancy was waiting, and it was Yancy, the man who had been so kind to him, the one he’d been falling in love with. Real love, not some fairy-glamour. The thought buoyed him, easing the pain in his steps, and the rust in his joints melted with every step, breathing deeper, the feel of his heartbeat in his fingertips stronger, and by the time he reached Yancy’s side, it was nothing at all to take his hand and kneel down in front on him on the grass, knees moving as easily as they had before he’d gotten on that plane for Normandy.
Yancy touched his face, hand sliding back into his hair. It felt thick, full, not weak and brittle like it had for the past months, and Raleigh could have cried. “As beautiful as you ever were,” he murmured, and pulled Raleigh in for a kiss.
Give yourself to me, Raleigh remembered the fairy prince saying, that Midwinter’s Night.
But this was Yancy, and summer, and nothing was the same.
He closed his eyes, and kissed back.
Their initial pysche evals came back as compatible, the fabricated history - they favor family pairs right now, Raleigh - worked perfectly with Yancy’s forged documents, and they both passed the fitness exams with flying colors.
God, it felt good to run.
Raleigh got his eighteen year old body back in June.
By October, he was back at boot camp.
It was as boring and stressful as the first time around. Except at Kodiak Island, he had Yancy, and that made all the difference.
Whatever glamour Yancy was keeping up to hide his true nature, it never slipped. Raleigh never dreamed of the forest hall; he never saw Yancy’s ears. Instead of that perfect naked body, seemingly carven from marble, he had a tired roommate covered in bruises and scrapes and freckles that stood out on dull pale skin. Training was exhausting, but Yancy never once complained, always there with a smile and a joke, always intent on keeping Raleigh’s spirits up. So much the big brother that sometimes, Raleigh forgot they’d lied about that whole story.
Lies seemed inevitable in Yancy’s world.
The only thing that Yancy balked at initially was drifting. So much so, they couldn’t maintain a handshake on their first two tries.
“There’s a millennia of shit in my skull you never want to know about,” Yancy explained to Raleigh, after the Commandant of the training facility told them they only had one try left before getting washed out.
“I can handle it,” Raleigh said.
He would have been lying if he said he didn’t think that failing out of Jaeger Academy meant he’d go back to dying as some old broken man in the VA facility. But lying was a part of Yancy’s world. He never asked.
They held their handshake on the third go-round.
Drifting with Yancy was intense. Very intense. What started in the simulator ended in bed, feet tangled and sweat cooling, Yancy running gentle fingers through Raleigh’s hair where it rested on his chest.
“Suppose you’re going to tell me you missed this,” Raleigh yawned.
He wasn’t sure what he felt for Yancy. Fear? Love? Hate? All the big emotions, all rolled together in one snarled ball that Raleigh had no desire to pick apart. The last thing he wanted was for Yancy to tire of him again, throw him away, take the youth spell, or whatever, away and leave him alone. He was bound to the fairy prince, but the chains weren’t so bad.
If only Yancy could have just been that kind, jovial guy who’d saved Raleigh from freezing to death and brought him chocolate. Just his boyfriend, just his lover. Hell, even just his brother.
That would have been perfect.
They graduated together in 2016, the first of their class to receive a jaeger. Gipsy Danger, she was called, and Raleigh adored her. She had a modern - well, retro - look about her, something in her lines reminiscent of a P-51. Like whoever had designed her had given her some taste.
“What’s the human in you have to say about our girl?”
“We have magic. You have machines. I would have liked a sword. But what do you think?”
“She’s a classy broad,” Raleigh told Yancy, the first day they stood on the gangplank together to watch their names be screen-printed onto her chest.
Yancy threw an arm around him. “Don’t think anybody talks like that anymore, kiddo.”
Kiddo. It’s what the fairy prince was saying instead of love these days. “I know.”
“Just don’t do it in interviews.”
Turned out, there were a lot of interviews. American press, foreign press, bloggers, radio, entertainment magazines. Everyone wanted a piece of the Becket boys, as PR had dubbed them, but at least Yancy always knew what to say. It got them through those first few crazy weeks after they got Gipsy, then their first kill (Clawhook, with a cable), and every one after.
Especially after the drop in Manila, when a very drunk Yancy had started a fight with Herc at the hotel where they were holed up, and it had taken half the security team to drag them off each other. Of course, somebody snapped off some photos on a cell phone and the news was around the world, practically before Raleigh could get Yancy back to the room and get an icepack on his shoulder.
“Fucking Herc Hansen,” Yancy was ranting. “I didn’t realize he was... if I see that motherfucker again, I’ll kill him, politics be damned.”
“You sound drunk.”
“Mother-fucking-a I am, and I aim to stay that way. We got a minibar in this place?”
“I didn’t think fairies could get drunk. Or hurt.” Yancy got banged up a lot, come to think of it. “Can’t you just wave that away?”
Yancy took the icepack away, holding it in place himself. “Glamour’s the only thing we’ve got here, in your world. Illusion, nothing more. I’d need to go home for that kind of deep magic, life magic.”
“Why don’t you?”
“I can’t,” Yancy slurred. “Not til we’re done.” And he threw both his arms around Raleigh. “Not leaving you behind. Not lettin’ you wander off on me again either. all or nothing this time, Raleigh. All or nothing.”
Whatever Yancy meant by that, Raleigh was never sure.
He never asked.
There were a lot of things he never asked.
It was easier to smile, laugh, enjoy.
Yancy had promised him pleasure once. And piloting together, fighting and eating and sleeping together, felt like a fulfillment of that promise.
Fairy magic, maybe, but Raleigh didn’t question it. Glamours were fragile things.
Still more unasked.
Quiet nights, the stillness after making love in their tiny bunk, or the afternoons spent in the training sims, working hard on scenarios until it felt like he’d pass out in the harness. The drift, with its calm darkness, the absence of thought that marked the space between then, the space that connected them, that they filled together. The joking and the laughter and the easy lies spun wholecloth for anyone who wanted to know anything real about them.
They knew nothing real about each other. It never came up. It never seemed to matter. What they had been, to Raleigh, was so much less important than what they were. The prince of the forest hall of Bastogne was nothing; Yancy Becket, with his quick smile and fond eyes, making some joke about the quality of the chow hall’s powdered potatoes, was the whole world.
Until that last final night, one last desperate Raleigh, listen to me!, and then nothing.
Yancy was a fairy, after all.
Maybe he could have survived.
He could have survived a lot.
But those seas were barely above freezing, and Yancy had been in his drivesuit armor, and the Blue would have gotten him anyway, even under the best of conditions, which that storm had not been.
The dreams didn’t come back, either.
It was that, more than anything else, that let Raleigh know Yancy was really dead.
For the first time, he found himself wishing the reclaimed youth really had been just a glamour. It would have been easier to disappear, to wait for the end, as some senile old man, dottering about. But whatever the fairy prince - or Yancy, always Yancy - had done for him was permanent, or near enough so.
Raleigh knew a thing or two about being homeless. About numbing himself. About switching off and just letting the world take him somewhere that, if not pleasant, was at least survivable.
Should have made it easier.
It was five years before anybody bothered to come looking for him again.
Raleigh didn’t ask.
He already knew Pentecost was coming for him, before the jumphawk ever showed up. He’d dreamed about it, the night before.
The forest at night, tall pines brushing the stars themselves, Yancy at his side, fingers wound together as they walked through the snow.
Our girl’s there, Raleigh. She’s waiting for you. When was the last time you saw her heart?
The last thing he wanted to see was Gipsy Danger; the last place he wanted to be was where Yancy died.
But he was a soldier, and soldiers followed orders.
The five years in exile had been difficult. His fairy lover was dead, but he still saw echoes of that world all around him. Flashes of light or moving shadows tucked away in alleyways, a passing glance of face that was not human, hints of aromas or strains of music that were too sweet for the human world carried past on a breeze. Everywhere, those hints of the fairy realm seemed and yet, he could never reach them. Any time he tried, the tendrils would slip through his fingers and he was left alone again, lost in the twilight of the human world.
The dying human world. A dream he couldn’t wake up from.
The Kaiju were winning.
But the war had mattered to Yancy. It was all Raleigh had left to give him.
The last place Raleigh was expecting to see anything more was the hangar bays of the Hong Kong Shatterdome, yet there it was. At the feet of Striker Eureka, surrounding her pilots as they fussed over their maintenance crates, the air shimmered, glass smeared with oil in Raleigh’s vision.
And then Herc was on him, barging right through the Marshall’s introductions.
Raleigh knew, the second the Aussie pilot shook his hand.
Joy - something Raleigh had never expected to feel at the sight of a fairy - leaped in him.
“I’m sorry about your brother,” Herc said seriously.
His heart clenched. If Herc was a fairy, if he... “Thank you,” he managed.
Pentecost kept talking.
Chuck was glaring at him.
Pentecost pulled Herc away.
And fuck. The target was the Breach. The Breach.
Tendo was hugging him.
“Just like old times!”
Raleigh wished he could forget Yancy. He really, truly did.
The forest kept him awake. Dreaming of the forest. Of Yancy, just out of reach, laughing through the trees as Raleigh gave chase.
It didn’t help his nerves at breakfast that Chuck was such a little bitch. Or that Herc, whose human glamour was so studiously grungy, was so helpful.
“I never knew whether to give him a hug or a kick in the arse,” Herc sighed, when Chuck had finally had enough and stormed away.
“With respect sir, I’m pretty sure which one he needs.”
Herc grunted. “Never did have much of a way with children, human or otherwise.”
“No.” But Herc looked at him, like he could smell the next question. “But he is mine. Human mother, but mine. Not like you.”
“And what am I?”
Herc handed him Chuck’s tray. “Eat up while you can. No telling how rough things are about to get.”
He just hoped she could handle it.
“Stay in the drift,” he warned her. “The drift is silence.”
At least, it always had been with Yancy.
She still rabbited. Hard. Hard enough that had it not been for his years of traveling dreams with Yancy, he might not have been able to reach her. And he wondered, as he reached into her mind and pulled her free of herself, if that was how Yancy had ever felt with him.
All I need is your compliance, and your fighting skills.
Raleigh knew, he knew what it felt like to be used.
Mako, on the other hand, didn’t seem to have any familiarity with it at all, and the failure in the conn-pod was a crushing weight on her. He wanted to tell her how his first drift with Yancy had gone, how there were places in himself he couldn’t let her see, didn’t trust her to see. But all he could give voice to was what the last drift had been like.
“Her heart. When’s the last time you saw it?” Mako said, sitting next to him on the gang plank.
We have magic. You have machines.
“A long time,” Raleigh told her.
But really, it only seemed an eyeblink ago.
Raleigh could relate.
Not that worries like that had ever done him much good in battle.
He set it aside, and focused on the war.
Cherno and Crimson died.
That seemed a good enough victory for the moment.
And Raleigh went to the Hansens’ quarters, to see if there was anything he could do.
It wasn’t a hard place to find.
The scent of fairyland was thick in the Shatterdome’s air, and following it down through the metal and concrete halls, Raleigh soon came across a small bunch of flowering grass, tucked into a corner, bathed in golden light. It expanded, grew, spreading out into a thick carpet as he continued down that way, vines climbing the walls, mushrooms spreading across the shadows underneath red sandstone rocks and flowers bobbing in a breeze that had not been there before. A young eucalyptus was twisted around a door near the end of the hall, the light streaming down dancing with dust, and the metal surface of the round portal into the room, instead of dull steel, appeared to be wrought out of hammered copper and set with fist-sized pearls.
Raleigh didn’t knock.
The door opened for him the moment he put his knuckles to it.
The space inside could hardly be called a room. Instead, there was an open vista centered on a rising sun, open desert stretching out in green rain-washed glory. Standing red sandstone monoliths defined a round space, grass thick underfoot.
“I thought you’d be more comfortable at home,” Herc said, waving him forward to where he was sitting, nestled in a carved hollow in the base of one of the rocks. “Welcome to my hold, Raleigh.”
Herc didn’t look much different; still dressed in worn work clothes, sleeves pushed up and shirt rumpled. The tattoos were different, though, curving lines of blue and gold, skin glowing with that same internal light Yancy always had. His ears were pointed, the lines on his face less pronounced, clean-shaven, but those eyes were as blue and as piercing as ever. He ached of power.
“This isn’t fairyland,” Raleigh said, glancing around. “It’s just some glamour.”
“Of course. But glamours are echoes, not falsehoods.”
“I hate this shit.”
Herc tilted his head, like he couldn’t quite figure that one out, and then nodded. A cascade of red-gold sand, and Raleigh was once again standing in a plain Shatterdome room, concrete and metal, a travel-weary redheaded human man in front of him. “I’ve never seen anyone who lived in the Summer Lands have such a strong reaction to them,” he observed mildly.
“I never lived there.”
“Don’t bullshit me. I can see the deep magic that’s been worked in you. Anyone could.”
“Yancy fixing his fuck-up.” Raleigh shook his head, changing the subject. “What’s a hold?”
“Sounds a lot less poncy than fairy castle, don’t you agree?” Herc was watching him, and Raleigh couldn’t meet his gaze. “What do you remember?”
“Of fairy land?”
“The Summer Lands,” Herc said, stressing the distinction.
“Not much. I was only there for a night...”
“You may only recall one night, but there is far more of the Summer Lands in you. Years, I’d reckon. Decades perhaps. Time runs different for us, but not that different.”
Raleigh’s mouth was dry. Hadn’t Yancy told him the same thing once? That there was more to their story that he couldn’t remember? “Why would I forget that?”
“The transition back to the human world can be jarring.”
“If I was happy in your... Summer Lands, why would I come back here?”
Herc shrugged. “Only you would know that. Perhaps it has to do with Yancy.”
“Yancy’s dead,” Raleigh replied flatly.
“Are you sure?”
“That would be a shame. Yancy was a great warrior.”
“We only deployed once together...”
“Oh, you misunderstand. I’ve known his family since before he was born. Been at war with them a few times. Gone to war together a few more.”
Yancy had mentioned something about that once, hadn't he? “You fight in our wars often?”
“When it matters. Where you go, we go. I came with the first convict ship to Australia. Yancy followed you to Anchorage, didn’t he?”
“He just wanted a co-pilot,” Raleigh muttered. “That’s all he wanted from me.”
“Oh, I doubt that,” Herc said, shifting, and the glow started rising again. “Not even royalty will fuck with the deep magics unless it matters a great deal.”
Raleigh realized he was backing up. “The war doesn’t matter?”
“Not as much as other things,” Herc said, and laid his good hand on Raleigh’s chest, soft but unyielding. “Other things matter much more to the Fae. Like beauty, and pleasure, and love.”
The last word was whispered in Raleigh’s ear, and he knew exactly what was coming next. What Herc was asking.
Give yourself to me
Raleigh pulled away,
Herc let go, a pensive look on his face. And then he shook his head.
“Take my advice,” Herc said. “Raleigh, dear boy, if death comes for you, go with her.”
He frowned. “What?”
“A life without love? Why would such an existence be worth living?”
He barely escaped the room, only to walk straight into Chuck and that ridiculous little bulldog.
“Dad snog you?” Chuck asked without preamble. He was still wearing his drive suit.
Raleigh gritted his teeth. “No, I didn’t fuck your dad. You notice there’s a war on?”
“Well that’s something. Wouldn’t expect that level of self-control from a fae’s whore.”
It cut, deeper than Raleigh would have ever admitted. “Man, what is your problem with me?”
“You’re a prince’s consort. Stand out like a fuckin’ foghorn. Even I can see that. And you didn’t even have the guts to do the decent thing and die with him.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m half Fae, right? But that’s enough, Dad says, for the Summer Lands to dream you back to life. Probably as a baby or some shit like that. So when he leaves, he’s takin’ me with him, but I won’t really be me anymore, now will I? Not like you.” He spun the door combo and twisted the handle open. “Don’t know what Yancy saw in you anyway, fucking coward.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Raleigh said, thoroughly confused.
“Yeah, you don’t know much, do you?” Chuck sneered, and slammed the door in his face.
Raleigh managed to keep it from his mind during the fight.
But there came the moment, through the Breach, in the Anteverse, when Raleigh could have hit the eject button. Could have made it out. Could have survived. And his hand was on the button, it was. It was so easy. So easy, to just live...
And he drew it back.
He closed his eyes.
“Death’s calling, Herc,” he muttered to himself.
“Herc is an old fool!” somebody laughed, and Raleigh fell forward, off the treads and out of the harness, nearly banging his head on the controls.
The conn-pod was filled with gold light, motes of dust swirling in the beams.
It did not feel like a glamour.
Heart in his throat, Raleigh looked behind him, and there, in the conn-pod door, was a figure cast all in shadow. “Yancy?” he croaked.
The shadow retreated, through the door, and Raleigh was scrambling to his feet, straining against the weight of the drivesuit armor to reach him. The door was closed, though, latch firmly in place, the warning lettering dull under his gloved fingers.
“Are you coming or not?” Yancy’s voice called again. “The air in here is stifling. Come join me under the open sky.”
Raleigh could not hear the alarms, the countdown, Gipsy warning him of her impending death. All he cared about lay on the other side of the door. But he couldn’t. He couldn’t move the handle. Couldn’t let himself.
“I can’t,” he said, forehead falling to the door. “Yancy, I can’t.”
“Why not?” and it felt like his dead lover was right against him.
“Raleigh, I love you. What could there possibly be to fear?”
“I love you too,” he whispered and with one last push, all the courage he had left, Raleigh forced the handle down.
He was going to die anyway, wasn’t he?
But instead of whatever poison atmosphere lay on the other side of Gipsy’s hull in the Anteverse, Raleigh found himself in a forest. A green forest of sweet pine and deep flowering grass, mottled with blue morning light drifting down through the spreading canopy. There was no sound, no birds nor insects. Just a great spreading stillness.
And standing there, clad once again in silks and golds and magic, with open arms, was his prince. Smiling.
Aaaaaaaaaand there was another chapter
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It was snowing, the night the Fae prince met his consort.
Years, decades, of their time had passed since he'd last taken an interest in human affairs. The last war, mechanized and brutal, had destroyed wide swaths of the forests and rivers, burned the air and salted the earth with blood. His family's lands ran from the tall southern mountains to the beaches at the head of the channel, and despite all his people's desperate efforts, they had saved little. He'd so busied himself with trying to heal the wartorn heart of his home, ignoring the humans entirely.
They'd once fought wars with iron and leather. Why make monsters that breathed fire and seeds that sprouted toxic gas? Hadn't they perfected killing enough?
It came as no surprise to him when the bombs started dropping again. The humans loved their killing. And despite the entreaties and the arguments from some of the other holds, kin citing his prowess or shaming him as a coward, he did not go.
He would not leave his forest for a human war again.
He'd had quite enough of slaughtering mortal boys in what they so mistakenly called the Great War.
He dug deep, and kept his hold silent. Far from the falling fire.
So it was with not a little shock that, on Midwinter's Night, he saw a human boy trudging into his forest, following the sounds of the festivities, leaving behind the human world, straight into the heart of the Summer Lands.
The prince left the music and the light to go meet the boy, right on the edge of the human twilight. He could smell death hanging in the air; whatever was going on in the woods that night, humans were passing from their world into wherever it was they went next. The boy had to go back of course, but the prince couldn't reach him yet, unable to cross that veil without a significant dedication of magic. He wanted to tell him to leave, but his voice made no sound in the boy's ears.
So instead, he just walked with him, cautious.
Midwinter's Night was a strange time. A time of dying and rebirth, and the boy beside him was too cold to shiver.
Left alone in the night, he likely wouldn't see morning.
Still he walked. Driven by something even the prince couldn't understand.
The prince went with him, hoping against hope...
But the boy crossed the veil as if it were nothing.
As he stepped into the light of the prince's winter halls, the prince got his first clear look at the boy.
And in that moment, he fell in love.
The deep magics had gifted him a consort.
The prince was determined to keep him.
"Good morning," the prince replied. He'd stayed up all night, watching the stars and listening to that human heart beat its own brand of magic through the boy's veins. Oh, he was delicious, young and virgin and unspoiled. A pure soul. "Do you not remember last night?"
The boy edged further away. "I was dreaming."
"I would dare say you've woken up. Your world is the dream. This is the world as she truly is."
"Where I am?"
"My private hold, one might say. My hunting lodge."
"And who are you?"
"I'm the prince."
"Prince of what?"
"Prince of the Western Sidhe, from the mountains in the south to the sea in the north..."
The prince laughed - his confusion was adorable - and crawled forward to wrap a fur around his boy's shoulders, pull him back in to warm him. He was shivering. "It is you humans who insist on names. To us, things are what they are."
The boy shook his head. "I was at war, we were fighting...I have to get back..."
"You would have died last night, if you had not found our fires," the prince told him seriously, and lifted his chin. "Your story is done in the human world. Stay here with me, as you promised you would."
And why the confusion? Love was love, sudden as a thunderclap and deep as the sea; nobody escaped it once it took hold. "You gave yourself to me," the prince said, more than a little hurt, that a human would reject him like that. "And I freely took what was freely given, and I will not give it up."
"So I'm your prisoner or something?"
"You are my consort," the prince replied, and ran a hand down the boy's too-thin chest, feeling him shiver for a different reason now altogether. "Now lay back, love, and let me show you what we are."
"I'm still not convinced this ain't a dream," he admitted to the prince one morning, wrapped in a fur and drinking a mulled wine one of the court attendants had brought, "but it's a dream I like dreaming."
"It's a dream you never need wake from," the prince told him, and offered him a pastry from a silver tray.
There was much knowledge that the humans had lost over the years, practical matters, such as how to ride horseback or use a bow. The prince had not come to his winter lodge to watch the war - which was distressingly closer now, with a human around, anchoring them to that world - but indeed to hunt. And, as with everything else, he wanted his human with him.
"I shall teach you to ride," the prince told him, taking him to the wide field where his steed ran free. "But you must be careful, for our horses are not like those you have in your own lands."
"What's the difference?"
"Not quite so tame," the prince explained, and whistled the herd over. They ran like water flowing over stone, smoothly arcing around the prince and the human, neither afraid nor concerned, slowing only gradually, taking stock of them.
His consort held out his hand. "I think this one like me."
The prince looked the stallion over as he rubbed his own's nose. "He is not one I brought with me from home. The earth must have breathed him out for you."
"We come from the deep magics of earth, dear love, and return to her, droplets scattered from the sea of her magic." The prince took a firm grip on his own mount's mane and swung himself up. Back in the old humans wars, he'd always had to use a saddle, but he much preferred the feel of living flesh against his legs. "She gives us life when we need it, and takes it away when we don't."
"Sounds pagan," the boy grumbled, eyeing his mount.
"We don't worship your pale desert god," the prince told him. "We have no use for your religions."
"No souls to contend with," the prince explained, and then set to showing him how to ride.
His consort had much to learn about their ways, their life and the rhythm of things, before the prince could present him to his father's court. He learned fast, and eagerly, given the right encouragement, and the prince felt a dizzying sense of power, beyond what his greatest spells had ever wrought in him, at the looks of grateful devotion his consort gave him during those tutoring sessions.
How to ride, how to shoot, how to dance, how to dine and how to make love. What would be expected of him. What he could expect.
A mere handful of days, it seemed, but spring had come by the time the prince deemed his human ready to depart.
When they did, his consort left all those foolishness about slavery and obligation behind.
And when he walked beside the prince across the wide flowering floor of the mountain hold's throne room, clad in the flowing spider silks of the Sidhe, the prince could scarcely tell the difference between him and a young Fae, so great was his beauty.
His eyes flicked over to the prince, but he did as the prince had told him. Prostrated himself, exactly as a good human in the halls of the mountain king ought.
The prince did feel one small twinge of regret.
Had he been presenting a Fae lover, somebody he intended to take as his husband, none of this would have been necessary.
"You did well, my son," his mother told him proudly.
"A suitable plaything," his father decided, and waved the human off. "You may keep him. Rise, human. Be grateful for my son's mercy in pulling you from the dreariness of the human realm. Welcome to our lands and hold."
"Keep me?" The consort asked that evening, after the prince had pulled him from the feasting for a quiet moment alone. "What did he mean, keep me?"
"If you had failed to please him, he could have ordered me to give you up," the prince explained, feeling a terrible twisting inside of him.
"Where...what? I thought I was yours!"
"You are. But I am beholden to my father and my king. Do not your people obey your rulers?"
"Our president can't tell you who you can take to bed."
The prince smiled, shaking his head. "But you told me that men cannot be with men, where you come from. It seems your president would indeed take you from me."
"I wouldn't go," the human replied defiantly.
Laughing, the prince wrapped an arm around his shoulders. "Come, I want to show you something."
"Oh, what's that?"
He led his human up the mountainside, to his favorite peak. Weariness was no threat here, every step as easy as the one before, time and distance immaterial. The journey took as long as one wished it to take, and that night, the prince wished it to be short indeed.
"Seems strange, to be out in summer and have it be dark," his consort said as they settled together in the moss of the summit, moonlight clothing all the world around them in pale blue. "Back home, it's light this time of year."
"Good," the prince whispered, and laid an arm around his chest, kissing his neck tenderly. "I much prefer making love under the stars." And to emphasize his point, the prince reached up into the inky black of the sky and pulled, bringing a swirl of light down around them, the tiny pinpricks of the heavens sinking for a moment, rising back into the firmament the next.
"Your world is so beautiful."
"It is your world, my dear love. Ours."
But humans, humans remained the same.
It affected them all different.
With every turn of the seasons, the prince could see his consort forgetting the human realm. It was rare to keep a human around so long; most Fae normally bored of them after a few nights and sent them on their merry way. The prince had done it himself a few times. Ennui was a powerful force in the long lives of the Sidhe. But that human, his human, the one who had come to him...
"He seems more one of us than not," his mother said to him one fine afternoon, watching him training in the courtyard with one of the hold's weapon masters. He had expressed an interest in the deadly arts when he first arrived, and the prince had encouraged the pursuit. Things were not always so peaceful for the Fae, and being able to protect oneself was important. Besides, it made for a fine show. "Do you notice it, my son?"
The prince leaned on the parapet, bright eyes taking in the every move of his lover's lean body. "He rarely speaks of the human world anymore. I'm not sure how much of his mortal life he recalls."
"He's been here far longer than he was there," she replied, folding her hands under the fur-trimmed bells of her sleeves. "Lived far longer as one of us. And the Summer Lands make or remake all things in their image."
The prince looked at her. "Do you suppose he's becoming one of us?"
"If the splinter is not expelled from the body, it is absorbed."
It was a dangerous thought, and an important one; humans aged and died, all of them passing to their next world eventually, but the prince had no desire to let go of his consort. He did not want some slave in golden chains. He wanted his love. By his side. Always.
That human was the first thing that had stirred joy, real joy, in his heart since he had returned from the trenches of their hideous machine-war. Strange that a human would heal what humans had took, but the earth worked her magics deep.
"Are you happy here with me?" The prince asked him that afternoon, as they bathed together in the mountain hall.
The human smiled, and splashed him. "My prince, where else would I be? The forest gave me to you, and you to me."
It was perfect, the prince thought. Perhaps, absent any reminder of the human realm, his consort would wake fully from that dream, and be of the Summer Lands alone.
It could work.
It might have.
Had not the Queen of California called for emergency council.
Standing amidst the ruin of her foothills, the prince of the Western Sidhe could deny it no more than of the others who had come, summoned by her pain. The ruins of an otherworldly beast lay smoking still, miles away, but the damage caused by the humans' desperate attempt to kill it, combined with its death throes spread across days, would forever mark the earth. The wind was hot, the air rancid, the plants dead. The prince wondered if anything would ever grow there again.
"This monster is unknown to us," another of the Fae leaders argued. "And only one in number..."
"The whales tell us something has torn in the sea," the local kelpie ruler told the small assembly. She too was in great pain, skin streaked with open wounds, glowing blue. Most of her people had died in the assault on the human city; they greatly favored wharfs that were now destroyed. "Deep in the heart of the ocean. They will come again, and in greater force."
"Can we shut it ourselves?"
"Even if I could find the Fae who live like spiders in those depths," the kelpie spat, "I would not. And they would not help."
"Humans may be the only viable option," the red-haired prince from the southern islands replied. "They have machines capable of reaching it."
"So says your brother?"
"Yes. But the humans, he says, consider this a single attack. They have planned no assault. They scarcely know what to do."
"They are fools."
"They are always fools. That does not stop us going to their aid."
"I grieve for you," the western prince told the queen, "but I do not know how we may help."
Her eyes were heavy, pleading; already the light was failing, the magic in her blood crumbling. If she survived the death of her lands, it would be a miracle. "We must go to war."
"Let the humans deal with such matters. Our focus should be on protecting our lands."
"I have no desire to crumble to dust with the knowledge that this shall happen to you, my kin, as well."
The arguing went on, but the prince had no stomach for it. The Fae would argue about a solution, but in the end, it would fall to the humans to protect their world from this threat. And whatever they came up with, the prince did not wish to see it.
The great ocean with its rift between worlds was far from his own forests.
He desired nothing more than to take the news and his consort home there again.
His kin fought, and he wandered away, into the ruined vineyards, seeking his consort.
His golden-haired human boy was seated at the top of a hill, pensive, eyes scanning the horizon, where smoke from the corpse still rose. "How many people died?" He asked.
"All the kelpies of the bay..."
"My people?" He clarified, sharp.
And the prince felt a chill in his blood.
Another monster - kaiju - came. And another. And a fourth, the defenses set up around the southern island's hold only just strong enough to survive the assault.
"This is not going to stop," his human said one evening, after they had withdrawn from the feast hall, from the floating lights and the stories of the jester, dancing across the stone floor. "These are my people who are dying."
The news came from an emissary of the red-haired prince. I am joining my brother. The humans have a new weapon on the machine-looms, one whose magic is so powerful they say it takes two to operate it. I have thrown our hold into the deep magic until I can return, and my people have retreated west...
"What would you have me do, my love?"
"You called me your knight once, long ago." His human squeezed his hand. "Put your armor on, and come with me."
"I will lose you, if you go back to the human world."
"You will not."
"My love, the transition... it kills your kind, you have no idea what will happen to you."
"You say I am more Fae now than human, do you not? I will survive it."
"You will do no such thing."
"I took an oath once, to protect my country..."
"This is your country now, and I am your liege," the prince said. "You shall not leave me."
"I am asking you to come."
"You will not go! I won't allow it."
"You said I wasn't your slave!"
"You are mine, human, and you will do as I say!"
The prince did not mean to thunder; he certainly did not mean to darken their chamber, chill the air, shake the ground. But he could not, would not, dare not risk his only love on the dangerous journey through the veil...
His human pulled away, anger in his eyes, and stormed from the hall.
The prince let him leave.
But when he did not come back to their bed by nightfall, the prince went looking.
He had no desire to ever do it again.
But his human had gone back there, and the prince had little choice.
He found his boy in the same sorry state that so many who left the Summer Lands found themselves; aged, decrepit, forgetful. There was nobody to help him, nobody to care for him in the deep winter of his home. The land was beautiful, more beautiful than the prince had ever guessed, but the city was harsh and everything was cold.
He tried calling in dreams, but his lover ignored him. It was hard to pin down his movements, figure out where he would be - old though he was, the human retained a large pinch of that Fae grace he'd been accumulating - or track him at all, in the horrid city of warped, molded stone.
No good it would have done to approach him directly in such a state. Go to him, remind him of the Summer Lands and the love they'd shared. No. No, the thought of rejection was more than the prince could stand.
He had no real magic in the human world. Nothing but glamours.
So glamour was what he used.
He found himself a name and a place to sleep and a job - humans and their obsession with work - at a shelter where his lover sometimes stayed. It was dedicated to that desert god, which the prince did not like at all, but it gave him the opportunity to learn more about the human world as it was, and when he felt informed enough to maintain the illusion, he acted.
"Well, how about we get you somewhere you can get some sleep, eh? And maybe a hot shower?"
His lover didn't recognize him.
Called him selfish.
At least he cried.
Broke the prince's heart.
It wasn't fair.
Raleigh Becket was an old man there in Anchorage, some poor dying soul with not a single thing to his name. The prince did the best he could for him, judging it better to care for him from afar, sensing the animosity this Raleigh held for his French guy. He stayed as close as he could, trying what he could to win back his lover's heart, weak and feeble though it was.
Almost entirely cut off from the Summer Lands, the most the prince could manage was a few snippets of conversation in dreams with his kinfolk in the area. Alaska held a small but strong hold of Sidhe, with the deeper, native Fae suspicious and slow to help.
Midsummer's Eve, they all told him eventually.
The magic was strongest on Midsummer's Eve.
Perhaps, the prince hoped, strong enough to re-ignite the Fae magic that had gone dormant in his Raleigh's blood. Make him himself again. Lift this cursed human aging from him.
There was no easy way to tell him, though.
Raleigh's mind started to slip. Forgetting things, falling asleep in the middle of conversations, starting a sentence with one thought and ending it another. It scared the prince; he had no experience with old age, and watching it assault the man he loved was almost more than he could bear. But it was his fault that Raleigh was in such a state and he held doggedly on to the hope that the midsummer sun would mend the damage.
He just needed Raleigh to believe. Find the will. Reach back.
And then somebody told the human about fairies.
He knew how humans viewed his kind. Wicked tricksters, indifferent spirits, worthless little chirping menaces, Satan's minions. He'd seen it all over the years. Humans, blaming his kind for the defects of their own imperfect blood, killing their own children under the misguided auspices of that changeling idiocy. The Fae who stole children never left a badly-wrought Fae-baby behind in trade; the earth took those back into herself until they could be perfected and given birth anew.
The Fae who killed humans, well, they killed other Fae too.
It wasn't as if the Summer Lands were always so peaceful.
He could feel the disgust, and the frustration, and the irritation boiling off Raleigh that night, when he went to him. It scared him; if Raleigh did not burn for it, the prince could not impose it. This magic had to be sought, worked, claimed by Raleigh himself.
You stole my life!
The prince was so upset by that screamed accusation, he fried the computer lab on the way out.
He never wanted to go back to that horrid place.
What if Raleigh saw through his glamour? Figured the game out? Rejected him?
The prince did not think he'd survive his lover turning on him.
But when he finally worked up the courage to go back, after a night where he could hear Raleigh calling out for him in his sleep, that creased old face wrinkled into a smile.
"Thought you'd moved on," he said quietly. "Left this old man to his devices."
The prince took one of Raleigh's withered hands in his own, raising it to his mouth for a kiss. "Never," he promised.
There were tears in the old man's eyes.
It was then the prince realized that Raleigh had fallen in love with him. Maybe not the Sidhe prince, but certainly Yancy the crab fisherman, and maybe that would be enough to work with.
Off in a small glen close to the clinic, as close to the veil as he could manage, the prince seeded a mushroom ring - easier than planting stones - and waited.
Touching Raleigh again was what the humans might have called a religious experience.
Raleigh kissed him and the prince kissed back, turning them around and pressing Raleigh into the soft grass, ravishing his body as he had done so many times, taking everything on offer, everything that had been given. Raleigh clung to him, gasping, sweet as the first time they had lain together, as if all the years between them had never happened, as if they had not once known each other's bodies with the intimacy of a knight and his sword.
The prince had never made love before in a human glamour, never even considered the idea. Every sensation was new, every brush of skin or biting clash of mouth different than it had ever been. At home, he had always enjoyed dragging things on for long nights, holding Raleigh just at the peak of his pleasure, prolonging and teasing, never allowing him to spill over until the exact right moment. There, that sunny night, in the Alaskan grass, his human body could barely hang on long enough to enter his lover. A few thrusts was all he had before his warmth was spreading out, before Raleigh came with a muffled sob against his belly.
They had not even undressed.
It felt dirty. It felt beautiful.
"What am I supposed to call you?" Raleigh murmured after a while, cuddled against the prince's side, sweaty and stinking. Far from how he smelled in the Summer Lands, but not entirely unpleasant.
"Yancy Becket," the prince replied quietly, and kissed the crown of his head. "In this life, for this war, we're brothers. They're favoring family pairs."
"We can still do this, right? Have, uhh, sex?"
"Should we not?"
Raleigh just laughed.
There was joy in it. First time since the Summer Lands.
It pained him deeply to face it, but Yancy had to admit, Raleigh seemed happier in Anchorage than he ever had in the Summer Lands. Things were easy between them here, banter and laughter filling the spaces between them. Raleigh bore him no sense of duty, no obligation, just a deep affection that had always been missing back home. There was a well of animosity for the fairy prince in Raleigh's heart, but Yancy Becket was no such thing, and so it all worked out quite nicely for a while.
They were free. Free in a way Yancy could never be in the Summer Lands.
They slept, they trained, they made love, and the days carried them through to the next spring, and their jaeger.
Drifting was a greater magic than humans should have been able to achieve with their cold metals and burning electricity. The entire concept set a disquiet in Yancy's heart; sharing his mind, his thoughts and dreams, with Raleigh?
Humans loved so strangely. Only after long years, and then only cautiously.
Yancy would have cut out his heart for Raleigh, mere moments after they met. Raleigh only now seemed to even trust him.
How could they drift, when they both saw each other so differently?
The last thing Yancy wanted was to let Raleigh see the depth of his feeling, only to feel hollowness in return.
But it had meant so much to Raleigh to come back, to fight, to stand with his people against these monsters from another world, that he could not fail. Raleigh had given everything to become a pilot. Yancy could honor him with no less.
So he spun an open silence in the depths of his mind, held out his hand, and Raleigh joined him there, in the darkness and the quiet.
No past, no future, only an unending now.
And from there, they killed the monsters.
And they left bodies behind. Like animals.
That had disturbed Yancy the most.
Wearing a human glamour, a shell around one's essence, was no easy thing. The glamour could be hurt. The glamour could be killed. But oneself, the Fae, just went home. Back to the Summer Lands. Eternal as always, unless slain with a Fae weapon or dissolved back into the deep magics.
Even if he died as a human, he would still live on.
And the longer they drifted, the longer they lay together, mixing their magic in human form, the more of the Fae Yancy saw in Raleigh.
He said nothing of his suspicions.
There was nothing to fear.
No pilot team had died yet in the Kaiju War. But surely, they would die together.
And when they died, they would go home in the same way. Together.
Some huge beast that destroyed half the city before their three-jaeger team took it out.
Yancy had not thought much of it, mind fixed on the more immediate human needs of booze and sex and sleep, when he bothered to really look at the Hansens.
Herc. And Scott.
Raleigh had mentioned something, vaguely, once, about Herc being the guy who'd cued Lightcap in on the Summer Lands, but Scott...
Yancy knew them both.
The man calling himself Herc had once been the eldest prince of Eire. The Fae at whose side he'd ridden off to that Second Crusade.
Both he and his brother had gone with the Brits to Australia.
Herc had told a fucking human about them. Herc had almost destroyed Yancy's chances of ever getting his Raleigh back.
At that point, he'd had enough to drink that he didn't care if he dropped Herc off a building. If it started a war back home.
How dare he?
The fight didn't start a war, although Yancy was in the mood for it, by the time security and their co-pilots finally pulled them off each other. Herc was drunk too, his native Sidhe strength somewhat sapped by two decades in a human glamour and six hours of combat and way too much beer. Not much damage was done, but Herc managed a few hard blows, a look of bored irritation on his face.
Raleigh was upset.
Yancy didn't know what to tell him.
Thank the gods he was already asleep by the time Herc came by.
"Thought you swore off humanity after World War One," he commented drily, the second Yancy jerked open the door.
"Fuck you," Yancy replied.
"Put some pants on, Prince. You owe me an apology. Or would your daddy like one of my legions on his doorstep tomorrow?"
Casting one backwards glance at his sleeping lover, Yancy glamoured himself a pair of sweatpants, grabbed the room key, and followed the king.
The air stank of dead kaijuu, but that didn't keep them from the roof. Their kind built few structures, and almost none of dead materials. Their living spaces were generally wrought form the living world, one still with the earth, and Yancy had not ever achieved any fondness for the inside of buildings.
"Feel better?" The king of Australia asked.
"Look at this city. Reeking pile of shit," Yancy grumbled. "Why do they do this to themselves?"
"Care to tell me why you struck out like that, in the bar?"
"It is my business..."
"It is everyone's business. The whole world is watching us."
"What difference does it make?"
"My boy, I've known you a thousand of their years," the king replied, tired and fond. "Whatever is the matter? You've got your page with you, you cannot possibly be affected by the drift..."
"He's not my page," Yancy replied. "He's my consort."
Yancy shrugged. The king whistled.
"I never would have guessed. He does not look like one of them."
"He isn't one of us."
And then the king sighed. "Oh, dear boy, is this about the VA?"
"You turned that researcher onto us..."
"I had no idea he was yours. Or anybody's. If I had seen you there... I would not have overstepped."
"Then why did you?"
"Looking for answers. These kaijuu are of another world, obviously, and if it was one we could fight ourselves, without this human insanity..."
Yancy snorted. "You were worried they were one of those primordial nightmares from the Dreamtime, weren't you?" The Fae of Australia were markedly few in number; the land was full of monsters, but amazingly, it was the humans there who kept the things at bay. Even in the Summer Lands, with all the war-magics at their disposal, the Dreamtime was hard to kill. The first few decades of European colonization had been brutal on the immigrant Sidhe.
"It had crossed my mind," the king admitted. "But she found no connections. And these things are of flesh and blood anyway, casting only echoes in our lands. This place, those jaegers." He looked up to the stars, hidden behind Manila's thick fog of pollution. "This is our only chance."
His body still ached from the day's fight. Yancy wondered how old he was in human years, if his bones were beginning the slide into old age, like Raleigh. "I hear you have a son here."
"Yes, Chuck. Strong, fine little lad," the king said proudly. "An accident, to be sure, but a happy one. Even if he is driving me crazy."
"Does he know?"
"About his old man? No, haven't told him yet. Perhaps before he begins piloting."
"You're going to let him pilot? He's just a child."
"He's my son, Sidhe, a warrior," the king replied. "And my brother is needed back home."
"Do you miss it? Your hold?"
"Every day," Yancy sighed. "But my lover is here."
"Humans," the king agreed. "They warm us, don't they?"
"Some day, I'll take him home again."
"Indeed." And the king smirked. "But don't you ever use him as an excuse to lay hands on me again, you understand?"
Yancy knelt and kissed his ring and apologized profusely. The red-headed king smiled and kissed him back and told him to bring Raleigh by for a spot of fun, if he felt up for it.
But Yancy had no desire to explain Herc and Scott to Raleigh, and even less desire to share Raleigh with them, as he would certainly be obligated to do, so he just went back to their room and crawled into bed.
In sleep, Raleigh snuggled up against him.
"Love you, Yancy," he murmured.
He never said it when he was awake.
These were the times Yancy could have happily forgotten his hold, his people, his true nature.
These were times he wanted to be nothing more than Yancy Becket, Raleigh's brother and lover and co-pilot, the center of his world, the focus of all that sweetness that eluded him
That he had never told Raleigh anything that mattered.
"Raleigh, listen to m-" he tried to yell over the gale-winds.
But before he could finish his sentence, before he could even decide what to say first, he was falling. Through the night, through inky-black waters stained with blue poison. To the depths, where the Fae who scared even the kelpies lived.
Raleigh was screaming for him.
Yancy couldn't go back.
The cold was too much, the water eating into his lungs, the pressure, the fear...
Yancy closed his eyes.
Raleigh was not with him.
Raleigh had stayed behind.
But of course he would. How would he know? Who knew if it would even work?
His people parted for him as he trudged miserably back up to the keep wrought from the living rock. Where his king and queen would, no doubt, expect a full report.
But his father was not in the throne room, as he so often was, nor the practice field, nor amongst the groves he loved so much.
His father was in the secluded riverside grotto he favored, cast in shadow, the queen at his side. Fading. Fading already.
The prince's heart tightened.
The earth, it seemed, had decided to call his father home.
"You cannot even take off that ridiculous human armor to greet me?" He father wheezed.
"Suits my mood," the prince replied.
"Your father has waited here for you, weakening, unable to go until you return, and this is how you greet him?" His mother snapped. She, too, was wavering, like a shadow under the noonday sun.
How long had they been waiting for him to come home? How long had they been delaying the inevitable? But the earth gave life, and took life away; it wasn't his place to be angry about it, no matter how much it grieved him.
The prince sagged. "I am sorry."
His mother reached for his hand, but her fingers slipped through. It was only with greatest effort that she held on, that the prince could squeeze back
"Well, I am not rain on the rocks yet," his father coughed. "So, sit." A fist of granite twisted up, into a perch beside the bed. "Tell me of this latest human war."
Hie mother squeezed his hand tighter. "Where is that human boy of yours?"
And the prince couldn't stop the tears.
His drive suit armor he took to his hunting lodge. The place where he and Raleigh had first made love.
The prince felt as if joy itself had died.
He had no peace.
He still had his drivesuit scars.
For a while, he tried to reach out to Raleigh, call to him, speak, whisper, brush his hair and reassure him that love was still waiting for him, just on the other side of the veil. But the human world was as a dream to the Fae, and dreams were hard to find again, once awoken from them. Even if the hold hadn't demanded the prince's full attention, the effort of crossing back to the human world was not insignificant. So close to having a glamour die on him, the prince lacked the power.
It took him many, many long days to stop thinking of himself as Yancy Becket.
He was not sure he wanted to.
But Raleigh's mind and heart were closed to him, some barrier around them the prince could not penetrate . Reaching out did no good.
Perhaps Raleigh had decided that he no longer loved him.
Humans were apparently fickle that way.
It rained on the hold.
Every day. Until the day that rain washed his parents away as well.
The prince - now the king - felt no pleasure in it. The space at his side was empty, his heart barren.
He found himself wondering if Raleigh had ever truly loved him at all.
"You need to stop this disgusting display of self-pity. It is entirely pointless. Come have a drink. You could use it."
It was - of course - the prince-regent of Australia. Scott Hansen. He and his brother had staged some kind of fight, gotten Scott a dishonorable discharge, destroyed their first generation jaeger in the process. On purpose. So Herc could gain control of the newest Mark 5 jaeger, and Scott could come home to attend to their land's affairs. Australia had been badly scarred by the kaijuu.
"I hate these human wars."
"You hate that you fell in love with a human," Scott replied. He had a flagon of wine in his hand; he'd always been one for frivolity. "You need a good orgy."
"I have no desire for an orgy."
"A Fae who does not want an orgy. What is this world coming to?"
"I thank you for coming to my coronation, and to pay respect to the man and woman who raised me, but what is it that you want from me now?"
Scott - the prince regent, he reminded himself - smiled.
"Did you keep your drive suit, when you woke back in our realm?"
It turned out that the brothers had worked out a spell, prior to Scott's departure, to keep receiving LOCCENT radio on their headsets. While some areas of the human and Fae realms overlapped perfectly, many didn't, and the Hansens had set themselves on the not insignificant task of coordinating on where the kaijuu would land an how much damage they might do.
"I cannot make the radio transmit back to them, but you should be able to hear it now," the prince-regent said after he was finished, handing the new king back his helmet. "For what that may be worth."
"What of Raleigh? Can I speak to him?"
"Across the veil? Can you not reach him through his dreams?"
"He is closed to me."
The prince was silent for a moment. "My brother, he says... he says Raleigh was disgraced, driven out, after Yancy Becket died. But they are recalling him to command Gipsy once again. So perhaps you may hear him yet."
Of all the men in all of humanity who deserved that...
"What kind of Fae am I? I have brought him nothing but grief."
"I have no advice to give, milord. I have never loved anyone but my brother. But from what I saw, you brought that human much joy."
The new king just squeezed the prince-regent's shoulder. "Thank you for your kindness."
The prince kissed his hand. "Of course. Now, if you will excuse me, I shall rejoin the revelry. One of us must enjoy this time for you."
And the new king was alone again.
He did not quite cry, but he did not quite not.
But he could not cross the veil.
He had responsibilities.
And he knew not where his lover was.
Waking from a dream, it was hard to find it again.
He had tried to reach out, once or twice, to tell Raleigh about Gipsy, but whether or not his boys heard him, the young king had no idea.
The LOCCENT radio crackled on at odd times. No discernible pattern; no warning. The new king kept it with him so he wouldn't miss anything. But all he heard were the deaths of men and women he'd fought with, respected, even if they were humans. Seattle, Vladivostok, Hong Kong.
The command crew of Cherno Alpha was screaming.
The king sat alone in the mountain feast hall, a bowl of mead at his side, silence falling as his friends died.
"-ako, this is for real!"
It was Raleigh.
He sat by the radio for every second of that battle. Aching. How he wanted Raleigh to win. How he wanted Raleigh to die, wake up, come home.
If he comes home. If he wakes up.
Perhaps it was too much of a risk. Too much to ask for.
Raleigh had called the young king selfish once.
But just hearing his voice again, tinny on the radio, was enough to bring the young king to tears.
Perhaps a little selfishness was permissible.
It was snowing that day, a light sprinkling that was drifting through the rocks and between the boughs of the spreading oaks above.
The young king was filled with anticipation. Anxiety.
Until night fell, the rain deepened, the stars hid.
Closing all ports, the radio said.
That final battle was desperate. Only two jaegers left, two small machines pitted against the unfathomable monsters from the depths, right over the Breach at the bottom of the sea, where not even the bravest or strongest of the Fae might natively go without fear.
...all I have to do is fall...
And once again, just as on that first night, he saw a boy walking between the trees. Stumbling. Aimless. Guided by something he didn't understand. Coming home, even if he knew not where home was. If he even knew it existed at all.
Not the trees around the young king now, no.
Raleigh was going home.
Where they had made love for the first time. Remade each other.
The young king flew from the hall, calling his horse and swinging on in one smooth leap. He tore through the forest, down the knees of the mountains and across the rivers and through the dark heart of his lands, heedless of anything but the need to reach his love.
A journey took as only as long as one wished.
He spared not a single heartbeat.
Robes fluttering around him, he dismounted at the mouth of his hall, tears in his eyes as he saw Raleigh walking towards him. Hope he had dared not feel rising in him, the hall fire burst into life; the wisp-o-will candles set the in the trees stirred from their snowy coverings to burn brightly.
Raleigh paused, shadows flanking him. The conn-pod. Gipsy's heart gone dark.
Death's calling, Herc,
The young king could have wept with relief. "Here's an old fool!" He called back, walking towards the echo of Raleigh's tomb.
Raleigh jerked. Stumbled. Fell.
The earth was stirring, the deep magics moving.
“Are you coming or not?” he called again, feigning aa happiness he didn't feel. “The air in here is stifling. Come join me under the open sky.”
Raleigh was hanging onto the door. Onto the handle. The last thing that separating them from each other. Open the door, believe in your magic, come home to me.
“I can’t,” he said, forehead falling to the door. “Yancy, I can’t.”
Yancy. At that, a tear did escape the corner of the young king's eye.
The young king wiped his cheek. All he wanted to do was touch. But all he could do was wait. “Raleigh, I love you. What could there possibly be to fear?”
“I love you too,” came the whispered response and, with one smooth push, Raleigh forced the handle down.
All the years, all the lies and glamour and mistakes, the unspoken feelings, the hate, kept the young king rooted in place. As the hatch opened; as the conn-pod fell away, and only Raleigh was left.
Raleigh was left.
The deep magic had stilled.
Raleigh was there.
Silent, tears falling freely, Yancy opened his arms.
Laughing, Raleigh fell into them.
I feel like this should end with sex, but I just... I don't know, it won't come together. But I do hope that answers some of the other questions.
Charlie’s first clear memory of his father formed when he was three.
Daddy wasn’t around much. Hardly at all. Sure, Charlie knew his daddy - everyone on the block knew his daddy. Sergeant Hercules Hansen, helicopter pilot, national hero. That's what Mummy said, any time Charlie asked, but hero or not, Daddy just wasn't around. He was always on deployment, it seemed, out a year, back six months, out another year.
Charlie liked having him around.
The house felt better when Daddy was there. Peaceful. Comfortable.
The monsters stayed away, when Daddy was home.
Most of Charlie’s playmates at day care had imaginary friends. The litlte boy was always jealous of that; he saw things nobody else did, too, except he couldn't tell his what to do. Sometimes they were fun, wanting to play or show him something new in the garden. Sometimes they weren't, telling him to do bad things that upset Mummy, or whispering bad dreams in his head.
And that was his first clear memory.
Those things. Locking him in a closet. In the darkness. Alone
He cried and screamed, kicked and banged, somewhere between rage and fear, but Mummy didn’t come let him out. The door was stuck; something on the other side was laughing, laughing more and more, the more he screamed.
And then it stopped.
Then the door opened.
Then Daddy was there.
Or somebody that looked like Daddy, but maybe wasn’t, because this man was wearing funny clothes, leather pants that fit very snugly, huge boots, a dark green tunic belted with gold, and he had something dark and sparkly in his hair.
A sword in his hand. Like in the storybooks.
“C’mere, son,” Daddy said, squatting down, and he looked the way he always looked in Mummy’s photos. “They’re gone now.”
Daddy picked him up and carried him down to the kitchen, his green flightsuit warm and dusty, like he’d just come in from outside. It was just his uniform then.
“Where’s the sword?” Charlie asked, as Daddy deposited him on the counter and set to making him some fairy bread, on eof his favorite snacks that Mummy almost never let him have.
“You saw me with a sword, huh?”
“Do you see me with one now?”
Charlie looked him up and down. “No,” he said, somewhat disappointed.
“Why didn’t you tell me about the shadows in your closet?”
“Dunno.” Daddy handed him two perfect slices of fairy bread. No crusts. The butter was perfectly even, the sprinkles spaced out in a grid. Charlie never knew later why he noticed that, but he did. “They just are.”
“Well, what do you say we get rid of them?” Daddy pulled out a small velvet bag from his pocket, and set it on the counter next to Charlie. "I have some rocks that'll keep the bad guys away. After your snack, we'll go plant them, okay?"
"Rocks can't do that."
"They're magic rocks."
There wasn't any arguing with that logic, not really. Magic could do all kinds of things in stories. Charlie shoved the rest of his bread in his face, finishing in three big bites, and held his arms out.
Daddy insisted that Charlie hold his hand as they walked out to the front garden together, but that was okay.
Under the gates, and at each corner of the yard. That's what his father said to do. Charlie got Mummy’s garden trowel and away they dug, planting one glistening chunk of what looked like green-black glass at each place. Malachite, Daddy said. Powerful stuff.. Charlie giggled at the name. And they were just finishing when Mummy came out of the house.
Come to think of it, where had Mummy been? She hadn't come when Charlie called.
"Charlie, what are you doing?" She called, hands on her hips.
“Daddy’s showing me magic!” he yelled back.
“Honey, Daddy won’t be home for another month!”
And hadn’t Daddy been right there in the garden with him? He was gone.
That night, Daddy’s dog tags were on his pillow, after Mummy tucked him in. Charlie grabbed on, held on. He wore them to day care the next day.
He never saw the shadows move again.
Most kids' dads came to school on career day, went to their football and rugby games, show them how to fix a car or fish or surf.
His dad didn't care about football.
His dad taught him how to - to use Dad's word for it- survive.
They went on their first camping trip when Charlie was seven. Kanangra-Boyd National Park, nothing extreme. A nice relaxing daddy-son weekend, was how Dad sold it to Mum, who waved them off with an exasperated sigh.
"We didn't bring much gear," Charlie said, looking over the two small backpacks Dad pulled from the back of their Land Rover.
"We don't need much," Dad told him, and handed him the smaller of the two packs. "Don't much hold with raising you in the city, even though it's safer. 'Bout time you learned our forests here."
"Why?" The beach, the ocean, the parks in Sydney, Charlie liked just fine. But the forest... it was big and scary and full of koalas.
"Because this is our land, the land where you come from. You need to know her."
Dad had never talked like that before, and it didn't make much sense. "But why?" Charlie demanded, pulling at the straps of the day pack.
Dad knelt down and adjusted the shoulder straps himself, a bemused expression on his face. "Because if you're ever on a school trip and get lost out here, I want you to be able to take care of yourself."
"We don't come on school trips out here," Charlie grumbled.
Dad kissed the top of his head, tousled his hair, locked the car and told him to follow.
The day was... strange.
It started with a hike, and ended with a fire.
With Dad roasting a couple of rabbits.
"I know this was hard for you," Dad said, sitting cross-legged on by the fire, the rabbits turning on the makeshift spit, "but you did well, for your first time."
"We had food at home," Charlie sighed. He’d be intrigued by the traps Dad had made out of wire and a few muttered words, but he hadn’t expected them to actually catch anything. He also hadn’t expected his dad to... to use his knife on it. "You didn't have to kill anything."
“Somebody else killed that food for us."
"Oh." He felt deflated. He had never thought of that before. "Do we kill all our food?"
"Most of it." Dad reached out and took Charlie by the hand. “We never take anything the earth gives us for granted, you understand? She gives us only what we need, nothing more. Now listen.“
Listen to what?
But Dad said it, so he tried.
The fire crackled quietly, fat bursting in the muscle, the smell of the roasting game both delicious and sad. Sitting there on the forest floor, with dirt in his shoes, the humid darkness settling in his hair, Charlie had the strangest sense of connection. Like all the world was alive in him, and his body nothing but a hollow shell for something else.
"Thank you, bunnies,” he said, not knowing where the words came from, and burst into tears.
His father pulled Charlie into his arms, and he sobbed it out on that strong shoulder, not really understanding what he felt, or why, but hating himself for it. He was seven, a big kid. He shouldn't be crying over a couple silly little...
"Shh, that's good," Dad gentled. "The earth speaks to us all. Let her speak to you now."
Charlie still didn’t know what he was supposed to be listening to. But his dad’s heart was loud, and he hardly ever got such big hugs, and there was nobody here to be embarrassed in front of, so he allowed it.
They hadn't made much of a camp. Not like what his friends talked about sometimes at school, with big tents or campers or even caravans, lots of chairs and cooking utensils and things to play with. Really, all Dad had let them bring was the ax, his knife, and a bedroll. Not even two, one separate for Charlie, so that night - after they had their dinner - he had to snuggle in next to his dad for warmth.
But laying there, at the summit of the low peak, the stars seemed closer and brighter and more alive than they ever had before.
Charlie dreamed of red rocks that night. Red rocks under a swift sunrise that never ended, green growing things sheltered in the shade, dripping with dew, and his father, his father was lord of it all.
They spent another day and another night like that before driving home again, where Mum fussed over Charlie's ripped jeans and banged-up knees, as well as Dad's indifference towards it.
"Good lord, what were you boys doing out there?" she demanded as she stripped Charlie out of his clothes for a - her words - much needed bath.
What were they doing out there? Mum wouldn't like Dad hunting rabbits, even if Dad's job was to kill the bad guys over in Afghanistan. And the rest of it, sleeping under the stars, walking until he was too tired to walk anymore, starting fires, it all seemed too personal. "Camping," Charlie finally said.
She rolled her eyes and dunked him into the tub.
It was about the only thing they did together.
Take the car up to the mountains, minimal supplies, nothing but them and the forest. Sometimes Dad brought his rifle, sometimes his hunting bow, sometimes he brought a set of rubber training knives, which Charlie thought was great sport, but pointless. When was he ever going to fight somebody like that?
"You'd be surprised," Dad told him, and knocked him on his ass.
That trip, they didn't go home until Charlie figured out how to stop taking blows.
Time stood still in the forest. Sometimes it felt like they were out there for weeks, months even maybe. It didn't seem to matter what the weather was; raining or sunny, cold or hot, they'd have it all in the same trip. Distance became impossible to keep track of, the land always shifting, trees moving or rocks rolling away, light shifting, the feeling of being close bot unmistakable and undefinable.
Dad was the only constant in it all.
Charlie didn't understand him either.
The rest of the time, when they weren't in the woods... it was like Dad didn't know quite what to do with anything, much less his son. Like there was some unspoken secret preventing them from connecting. Charlie hated it.
And then hated it more, when, at age nine-and-a-half, he figured out what it probably definitely was.
Mum didn't want Charlie watching the news. Go to bed! she'd finally yelled at him, when, rooted to his seat at the table, a monster destroyed something called the Golden Gate Bridge in California.
Dad had to stay late at base so there was nobody to ask for support, to beg for permission to stay up and watch this. Charlie trudged upstairs, grumbling the whole way.
But later that night, he heard voices. Male voices. And whether or not it was going to make Mum mad, he crawled out of bed and snuck to the landing at the top of the stairs.
Their house was small, but comfortable. Older, with a little open area on the upper floor, blocked off from below by a railing. It overlooked the living room at the front corner of the house.
The living room where, in darkness only broken by what seemed to be candles, Dad and and somebody who looked painfully like him were sat on opposite sides of the coffee table, the chess board spread between them.
"You know things are in a bad way," the other bloke was saying. "Nobody will know what to do. Nobody will be able to do anything. You know as well as I, magic has its limits."
"We have subs. The seppos have nukes on theirs."
"If that's enough."
"If," Dad agreed, and moved one of his pieces.
"Do you think there'll be more?"
"Of course there'll be more." The bloke slid a pawn forward and Dad took it with a rook. “Conducting an invasion with one soldier is hardly a sound military strategy."
"Maybe they're just mindless beasts."
"That's what we said about the Dreamtime fuckers, remember? I would rather overestimate the threat than not." Dad snapped his fingers, and it seemed like another candle burst into life. “I need you to check on that. The humans will build some kind of machine.”
“Of course. I shall consult the runes at first light.”
"I may need you with me."
"You want me to leave the hold?"
"This is important. We have people to protect."
“Yeah, our people. Not theirs.” The bloke picked up his queen, holding it in his hand. “Or is this about Charlie?"
"He's vulnerable, he's fragile. I've never seen you care about..."
"He's a strong boy."
"He doesn't even know. Why haven't you told him?"
"This is not the time..."
"He deserves to know."
"Know what? That his father's a fucking fairy?"
The bloke, setting the queen down on the board, stretched out his hand and took Dad's in his. "King of the fuckin' fairies," he laughed, and kissed Dad's knuckles.
"Oh, I have missed you, these years away," Dad sighed.
"I know," the bloke said and, shoving the board aside, crawled up on the coffee table and kissed Dad full on the mouth.
Charlie, in shock, watched for a few more moments. Dad kissing back, Dad running a hand under that bloke’s shirt, the bloke laughing and falling forward to straddle Dad's lap...
He fled to his room, as quiet and as quick as he could, diving under the covers and pulling them tight about him.
It had to be a dream.
Had to be.
But he couldn’t get it out of his head.
Fairy, one of the other boys at school told him, was another word for gay. Which meant that you liked other boys and not girls, not girls at all.
So Dad didn't love Mum? Is that why he was away so often? Was that why he never came home? Who was that bloke? Did Dad love him at all?
It was too horrible to contemplate.
And probably a dream anyway.
Except when Charlie got home from school that day, Dad wasn’t back from base yet, but somebody who looked like him was hanging out in the kitchen with Mum, drinking coffee and chatting like he hadn’t a care in the world.
Charlie’s eye got huge.
“Oh, hey there, sprog,” the bloke said.
Edging over towards Mum, Charlie just glared at him. “Who are you?” he demanded.
“Honey, this is your uncle, your dad’s brother. Uncle Scott? He always sends you a present on your birthday.”
Uncle. No way. Why would Dad be kissing his brother? But yes, he always did get a little package from an Uncle Scott. Usually, that was the coolest toy, something small but almost magical. “Why’s he here?”
“I’m in between shipping contracts right now. Had some shore time. Your mum was kind enough to let me stay on a few days,” the bloke, Uncle Scott, replied. He did look an awful lot like Dad, with longer hair and lankier features.
Mum rolled her eyes. “Your brother is very generous with my house.”
“And you, beautiful lady, are very generous with your food. These scones are amazing.”
Amidst their laughter, Charlie just stormed from the room and turned on the news in the living room.
America was still smoking.
Military was pulling everyone it could back, he explained. Just in case something else kicked off. Another monster rose from the sea.
Charlie didn't believe him. Didn't want to talk to him.
Because Uncle Scott stayed in the guest bedroom for weeks, and all Charlie could think was that Dad was spending his nights down there, hugging and kissing and... having sex... whatever that was.
But nothing happened. Nothing.
For a year.
At least Uncle Scott finally left. But it didn’t help how Charlie felt.
Charlie refused to go on any more camping trips. Spent as much time away from home as he could.
Hoping this charade would end. That Mum and Dad would just get divorced and stop pretending, stop making him pretend.
And then Scissure came.
Dogs weren't supposed to be allowed in the makeshift shelter, a hangar doubling as sleeping quarters for a hundred or more families displaced by the attack in Sydney. Most the city had been evacuated, the news said yesterday. Not Charlie's school. Dad had come and picked him up, emergency transport swamped and the roads overwhelmed. Where Dad got the helicopter, Charlie didn't know, but his throat was still sore from trying to scream over the noise of the rotor wash.
Dad had left Mum behind.
He'd left her.
Probably because he didn't love her, cause he was gay, she didn't matter...
The puppy nosed at Charlie's leg with a blunt, wrinkly snout, and Charlie picked it up. He'd always wanted a dog, but Mum hadn't liked them. The thought was enough to get him tearing up anew.
The puppy licked at his cheek.
On closer inspection, the pup kind of felt like those shadows Charlie had seen when he was a little kid. Something luminous in him, not real, just under the surface. It was only a flash of it.
And then the little thing peed all over his arm.
"Oh, eww," he moaned, loud enough to wake his dad in the cot next to him.
"What's that you have?" Dad asked, blinking blearily. He looked like hell warmed over. Like the destruction of the city had affected him personally. Wanker.
"A puppy," Charlie replied flatly.
"Too early for the lip," Dad yawned and held out a hand. "Where'd you get it?"
"Dunno. It was here when I woke up!" But he handed over the little squirming animal.
Dad held it out, its little paws nestled between his big calloused fingers, turning it, like it was a puzzle to be figured out.
"Oi, you shouldn't hold him like that!" Charlie snapped and, wet sleeve and all, grabbed his dog back.
"Hmm. Well, if he found you, I'd say we should keep him. Don't want to reject a gift like that."
"Like what, from the earth?" Charlie sneered.
His father's face darkened. "You need to watch your mouth, or..."
"Or what?" Charlie demanded. "What are you gonna do to me, huh?!"
"Mum's dead cause of you! Mum's dead!" Charlie yelled.
He was ashamed of the way he broke down after that, but the puppy squirmed in his lap, trying to lick him, comfort him, and it helped, it did.
“See you found the prezzie I brought,” Uncle Scott said, coming into the little area Dad had marked out for their own. Just showing up. Jerk. Why?
“Boy likes it. Thanks for the thought,” Dad said. “What’s going on? What’d Stacker have to say for himself?”
"Our application went through. We ship out next week."
Charlie wiped his face on his sleeve. The dry sleeve. "Ship out where?"
"Kodiak Island," Dad said. "Put the paperwork in two months ago. Your uncle and I are going to go kill these things."
"Good," Charlie said, defiant, and then the tears welled back up, worse than before.
At least they let him keep Max.
The training academy was ad hoc, Dad said, something cobbled together from existing facilities and quick pre-fab structures, no time for new, real buildings, the island isolated enough to prevent constant media scrutiny, far enough off the grid to avoid most surveillance. A tactical fortress, Dad called it.
Whatever that meant.
Dad also said the instructors didn’t know what the fuck they were doing. The whole program was being built up from scratch, nobody quite knowing what it was going to take to pilot the jaegers, what would distinguish the good pilots from bad, what skills sets or mentality would be needed. Almost everyone in Dad’s class had some kind of fighting experience.
Dad’s and Uncle Scott’s turned out to be... different.
Charlie was there the afternoon it went down. Maybe three weeks after they got to Kodiak Island, a group of the jaeger pilots had already established afternoon sparring sessions in the big gym. Charlie liked watching, and Max seemed to as well; he always sat at his feet quietly, not whining or anything. Charlie wasn’t real sure how exactly the conversation started - he was reading - but he knew how it ended.
“Oi, Charlie! Our gear bag there?”
Uncle Scott. Charlie blinked, but glanced down. Yeah, the big beat-up camping duffel bag was there. “Uh huh.”
“Good.” Hs uncle came over to where Charlie was sitting in the stands, unclipped the bag.
And pulled out a sword.
“You want yours, Herc?” he yelled.
“Don’t be an asshole,” Dad yelled back.
Plain, not fancy or anything like that. What Charlie would have thought of as a sword, almost laughably generic, sheathed in plain leather.
Uncle Scott threw one of those. Halfway across the padded fight floor. Dad caught the scabbard easily with his left hand, right hand on the pommel, drawing the blade free and tossing the scabbard away in one fast, smooth move.
Giving Charlie a wink, Uncle Scott drew his blade as well, striding back out.
“Woah, guys,” one of the Americans, Captain Gage, said quickly. A couple of the other pilots stood up from where they were sitting in the stands. “Those real?”
Dad gave him a withering look, and in one almost lazy stroke, cut straight through one of the heavy bags lining the side wall. Black vinyl collapsed to the floor, old cloth wadding sort of oozing out like so much toothpaste.
The chatter stopped.
Uncle Scott grinned.
“Okay, so, when we were asking who has the most fucked-up fighting style, we didn’t really mean...” Lieutenant Sevier began.
“If he gets cut, it’s his problem,” Dad said, almost flippantly.
And Uncle Scott was on him.
Dad barely parried. But parry he did.
For five minutes, five of the longest minutes of Charlie’s life, his father and his uncle went at each other full bore. Utterly brutal. Fluid movements flowing perfectly from strike to parry to thrust to dodge to strike, all of it so much more intense than any fight Charlie had ever seen in a movie.
He’d never seen either of them more... well, graceful seemed the wrong word, because those blades were razor sharp. And there was no showmanship in this. Had Charlie not known better, he would have guessed they were actually trying to kill each other.
Everybody in the gym was watching, on edge. There was no banter, no talking, just the sound of those blades singing in the air.
Something about it - the sound, the feel, the sight of a sword in Dad’s hand - something seemed so familiar, so right, so...
And for a second, they weren’t in a gym in Alaska anymore.
They were in a courtyard of a castle shaped from red sandstone, carved out like the waterfall pools on Uluru, afternoon sun bright in the dust rising under their feet. Uncle Scott had only a pair of leather breeches on and Dad’s vest top concealed nothing, the tattoos on his arms so different from the ones Charlie had always known him to have, glowing...
Dad looked over at him sharply.
Taking his eyes off Scott for a split second.
“Dad!” Charlie screamed.
A contortion, a twist, and one insanely quick snap, and Dad stopped Uncle Scott’s blade, centimeters from his neck. The force of the blow forced him off-balance, down on one knee. Uncle Scott looked as rattled as Dad did. They were both dripping sweat, gray training shirts soaked translucent.
He flicked his sword away, back down by his side, and offered Dad a hand up.
“Long time since you got the drop on me,” Dad grumbled, shaking himself off, going back over to where he’d tossed his scabbard.
“You haven’t been practicing,” Uncle Scott replied.
“Yeah, I’ve been in Afghanistan, you bogan. Not a lot of need for this there.”
“I hear the Bronze Age hasn’t gone out of style there quite-“
“You two are insane,” Dad’s old friend, Pentecost, interrupted, cutting Uncle Scott off. “The fuck was that?”
“Yeah,” Sevier added. “Where’d you learn that?”
Dad looked over at Uncle Scott, who shrugged. “Herc ’n’ me both did SCA when we were teens.”
“Oh bullshit you did.”
“SCA’s some good shit, mate.”
Pentecost sighed. “I don’t think we should add combat saber to the training regimen.”
“Your loss, man,” Uncle Scott replied with a smile. “It’s a ton of fun.”
Charlie asked them later too where they learned to fight like that.
“Could you teach me?” he asked. He tried to stay mad at them most of the time, because of Mum, but that was just too cool not to ask.
Dad actually smiled for once, and kissed the top of his head. “We’ll start tomorrow.”
Charlie dreamed about that courtyard, the red stone one, that night.
It was empty, sure.
But at least Dad and Uncle Scott weren’t there kissing.
They did tease him about his name, though.
Charlie? Charlie? Who’s named Charlie? What are you, gay?
“Dad, how do you know if you’re gay?” Charlie asked over dinner one night about a month in, both his father and his uncle in their usual exhausted, silent evening-after-simulator-testing mode.
The adults exchanged a look, and then his dad turned a questioning eye on him. “Why do you ask?”
“The boys at school said I was gay cause of my name.”
“Human children are evil little shits,” Uncle Scott said.
“Really?” Dad replied sharply, and laid a hand on Charlie’s shoulder. “They’re just teasing you, son. It doesn’t mean you’re gay.”
“How would I know?” Charlie grumbled, poking at his potatoes, not really thinking about it. “How’d you guys know?”
Wrong thing to say.
It led to some yelling. More yelling. A threat of being grounded, a furious accusation that you never loved Mum at all did you!, some howling from Max, and finally, Charlie couldn’t take it anymore, and ran.
He didn’t have his jacket, only had his slippers, it was dark and it was cold, only a month or two before the snows would start, but he didn’t care. His dad, the hero, who never cared about him, never stayed with him, didn’t save Mum, didn’t save Mum because he was having sex with his brother instead...his dad, the hero, who didn’t really love him at all, who had never, in all of Charlie’s life, ever said his name.
Charlie ran until his strength gave out, until he was deep the forest beyond the base. Collapsing into the dense underbrush of the heavy pines, he screamed until the last of his breath was well and truly gone, grief and anger mixing together until he hardly knew what he was feeling any more.
A twig cracked.
Something moved in the falling darkness.
Charlie had exhausted himself, and he had no idea where he was. He couldn’t see the lights from the training base; not even the floodlights that illuminated the runway’s maintenance hangars penetrated the dense Alaska forest. Dusk was falling. He was alone, and cold, and didn’t know what to do.
A bear, his brain screamed at him. The teacher had said that, lots of bears on the island. Bears. Couldn’t outrun them, couldn’t out-climb. Nowhere to go.
Nothing to do.
Charlie knew he should be terrified. And he was, he was scared. But in that moment, certain death threatening from the shadows, something moved in him. Something that told him he’d live, he’d be okay. Something that forced him to get up, face this thing.
All he had to do was listen.
Like Dad always said when they were out in the woods.
What’s the earth telling you?
He reached out. Lifted a trembling hand to the monster that was circling him in the darkness.
Starving. Too weak to go to sleep for the winter, this bear was, hungry and mean for it. It didn’t want to kill him, had no animosity for him, it just wanted to eat.
“You don’t have to eat me,” Charlie murmured.
The bear stopped its advance. Sniffing, but not moving.
“I could bring you something,” Charlie offered. “In the morning, I could bring you some beef. We have lots of meat at the base. More food than me. Enough for the winter, probably.”
The bear leaned in, massive grizzled muzzle nudging him, nostrils puffing hot, rancid breath all over the boy.
He didn’t feel afraid any more.
He felt calm. Dangerously, serenely calm.
The bear pushed its head against his, and he wrapped his fingers through the bear’s fur.
And then a sound like a thunderclap broke behind him, echoing in deafening waves down through the forest, and the bear fled.
There was something disappointing in its retreat, the sound of its bulk vanishing into the darkness.
“Son, oh my boy,” Dad said, coming out of the gloom, dropping to a knee beside him, looking him over, “what happened? Did it hurt you?”
“I had it under control,” Charlie grumbled. The sudden sense of loss was excrutiating. “I don’t need you to do it for me.”
“Son, that was a grizzly bear.”
“I know. He was just hungry.”
Dad laid a hand on his shoulder. “What did you say to him?”
“Dunno.” But Dad was staring. That stare. Charlie sighed. “I could bring him some food?”
“Then why don’t we go get that done for him? If you promise something, you should follow through.”
It was stupid easy to steal a side of beef from the walk-in, borrowed an ATV, took it back to the spot where the bear had almost attacked, where it was waiting for them again.
Dad stood in front of the meat, though, arms folded.
“If you or any of your kin treat my son like this again, there’ll be hell to pay.”
The bear grunted, like it was agreeing, and tucked in.
“He’s not gonna listen to you,” Charlie sighed, as they climbed back on the ATV.
“He listened to you.” Dad kissed the top of his head. “I’m so proud of you.”
“Are you and Uncle Scott gay?”
“Oi, that shit again?”
Charlie never did get his answer about the gay thing.
But he did change his name. Charles sounded stupid. He’d never liked Chaz. But one of the older blokes who came by their quarters in the evenings, Tendo, said that Chuck was real popular too.
Or being gay.
Or much anything.
But that was okay.
The forests of Australia were long gone; they got sent to Victoria Harbour when training was over, when Dad and Uncle Scott got Lucky Seven. Hong Kong was a jungle of glass and concrete, so there was no forest to flee to. Dad still had training sessions with him, every day, usually outside on Lucky’s launch platform. Bo staff, knives, open-hand.
But at least there were the machines.
They just were. Made sense. They weren’t a bear charging at him in the twilight. There were no feelings involved. Things broke; he fixed.
Dad and Uncle Scott slept together most nights. Chuck knew. They let him have the bedroom in their little family unit, taking the bunk outside. Uncle Scott said he slept on the couch, but he never did. Chuck knew.
Chuck never saw them together again, but he did see them playing chess most nights, after they sent him to bed.
They’d just stay up. Playing chess. Never watching TV or reading or anything that other people did. Just chess. Sometimes cards or go or other games, but definitely never TV.
As much as Chuck wanted to stay mad about it, Dad and Uncle Scott were all the family Chuck. He was pissed about Mum - still, a year, two, three years later - but he couldn’t hate them. He loved them both, especially Dad, even if he didn’t want to.
At least he had Max.
“Why?” Chuck tapped Lucky’s foot. “She’s got a busted hydraulic line, you know. From that fight in Manila.”
“And a full maintenance crew.”
“So? They didn’t fix it right.”
Dad sighed, and sat down on a nearby pallet, eyes narrowed. Disapproving. Dad always disapproved these days, it seemed. “It’s not natural, this obsession you’ve got with these machines,” he finally said.
Chuck resisted the urge to throw his wrench in frustration. “What’s your problem with it?!”
“Like I said, it’s not natural. For... us. Our people.”
“Nature’s stupid,” he grumbled.
“Be that as it may, we’re gonna go visit her for a while.”
“Would your mother like you using that language?”
“She ain’t here, is she?”
Dad sighed. “You know that application you put in for Jaeger Academy?”
Chuck felt a flush stealing up his neck. Immediately. Damn complexion. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Reaching into his flight jacket, Dad pulled an envelop free, holding it between his front two fingers. “Since you’re a minor, they did ask me to sign for you. Parental permission, all that.”
“Did you think I wouldn’t find out?”
Chuck slumped, defeated. And this time, he did throw his wrench. Just down, though. Dad couldn’t be pissy about that. Dad had to understand. He just wanted to do something. He felt so useless, so out of place. All the time. Like he wasn’t even supposed to be here, be alive, or something. His whole life was wrong. “I don’t know. Maybe.”
“Why didn’t you just ask me if you could go?”
“Dunno.” He kicked at the wrench. “Can Max come?”
“I don’t see why not.”
“Oz. Where else?”
Felt like coming home. In all the right ways.
Chuck couldn’t deny that his happiest memories of his dad were all there. Some of the worst, too, but mostly good.
For the first few days, things were the way they always were; hunting, fishing, hiking to whatever waterfall or peak Dad and Uncle Scott felt like visiting. Max, despite his stubby legs and smushed face, kept pace with all of it far better than he ever had on a walk around the bock.
At night, Dad built the fires and Uncle Scott told the stories, stories Chuck had never heard him tell before, tales about knights and kings back in some fantasy version of Europe that had never existed, wild hunts that went on for weeks, wars that waged on for years, feasts and celebrations and quests for magics of ages past.
For the first few nights, there was nothing but stories.
“Finally,” Uncle Scott said on the third, or maybe fourth, afternoon as they came upon a clearing in a thick, sweltering grove. Emerging out into the sudden sunlight, Chuck had to hold a hand over his face to see.
“Finally what?” he asked, squinting.
Dad walked over to one of the waist-high termite mounds, ringing the small meadow, and kicked at it. “Put us on a merry chase, didn’t it?”
“What can I say, brother?” Uncle Scott said, dropping his pack and going for another mound. “You wanted wards against any outside our blood, I planted you wards.”
“Shouldn’t count for my boy. Next time, don’t ward it so thoroughly.”
Uncle Scott was digging at the mound, and instead of furious termites, there was white stone inside, like marble. “Like I knew you were going to have a sprog on this latest little expedition of yours.”
“Dad?” Chuck asked, unsure of what was going on and not liking it in the least. Something seemed to be shifting, the light or the smell of the air or something, tugging at him. Max was whining at his side. “What’re you guys talking about?”
“Sit down, son,” Dad said seriously. There was a white monolith in front of him, the termite mound dust at the base now. “Sit down, and be very quiet.”
“Because magic,” Uncle Scott replied.
Except by the time Dad and Uncle Scott dug all the termite mounds up, white stone inside all of them, something had changed. Something felt close, like waking up from a a deep dream.
“Ready?” Dad asked.
“Ready for what?”
“Ready for this,” Uncle Scott said, and brushed one last handful of dirt from the top of one of the stones.
And the whole world changed.
Not noticeably, but fundamentally. The light sharpened and diffused, as if instead of the sun, it was every living thing around them giving it off. The grass underneath his trainers was thicker, richer, healthier... happier. The trees spoke as they swayed in the breeze. Ants moved in the ground, whispering of secret things. Max licked his hand, and a entire symphony of love came through. The air was sweet, dust swirling in lazy spirals.
For the first time since he could remember, Chuck felt whole.
But Dad, Dad and Uncle Scott...
The two of them were standing on the edge of the circle, Scott leaning against the stone he’d just cleaned, Dad with his arms crossed.
Like the rest of the world around them, a soft illumination seemed to move within Dad. He’d been wearing old khaki pants and an older t-shirt, but now in their place was a pair of perfectly fitted leather pants and some kind of green tunic, woven with gold. The battle-scarred skin of Dad’s arms was smooth, his tattoos changed, hair more red, eyes more blue, strength where so much weariness had been only last night. His ears tapered, and - of all the fucking things - he had gems, black as night, wound through his hair.
“Dad, what’s going on?” Chuck asked, shrinking back a little.
“This is home, son. These are the Summer Lands.”
That’s what Dad said they were. Fae. Sidhe. From the Old World, emigrated to Australia as sure as the British did. And Dad was their king.
“This was the armory your grandfather had built for us, when it was decided your uncle and I would lead the expedition here,” Dad was saying, walking them down a hallway of trees. Not natives trees. Oak. Old and twisted. “Complicated business, moving such a place. I haven’t been here in years.”
“We had everything we needed here, every comfort of home,” Uncle Scott told Chuck. He had an arm wrapped around the teen’s shoulders, comforting but hardly reassuring. Max’s collar had vanished, the second they’d set foot in the Summer Lands, and his paws were silent on the stone. “But when we established our hold, we moved our people out and left this place just for us.”
“For you guys to come and...”
“Sleep together?” Dad finished for him. “Son, you have to understand, things are different for us. Beauty and pleasure are central to our lives. Love is love, and to not share it would be a tragedy.”
“So everything’s okay?”
“Not quite all things,” Dad told him, giving him a sad smile.
“Your mother knew, about your father and I together,” Uncle Scott added, and patted Chuck’s shoulder. “We both loved her very much.”
Outside of that place, Chuck would have shoved Uncle Scott off. But there, it felt okay to cling, so cling he did.
They showed him the whole place. Hallway wound through the trees like game trails, stairways twisted through branch and trunk, bark so thick on some of the oaks it served as foot hold enough. Marble boulders rose like pillars or fell across the chasms between roots. Small flowering plants grew in the cracks between stones. Lights like fireflies flickered in the shadows; the earth itself seemed to breath.
Finally, as dark was falling again, they finally stopped at the mouth of a wide cave, reaching deep into the mountainside. Uncle Scott went ahead, hand outstretched, palm up, light springing like smoke from a campfire, spreading into every nook and cranny, swirling finally around a wide pit of stone in the center of the room.
Embers sprang to life.
The walls of the cave were spun from living metal, coppers and golds shining in the firelight, set through with raw gemstones, crystals that shone with a thousand different colors. And on one, the far back, a line of swords hung proudly on delicate stone hooks.
Dad smiled as he walked past these, hand skimming the surface, the blades singing, quiet hums. “This is what we are, my boy. We are beauty and death. Lovers and warriors.” At the end of the line, in front of the blade the color of the rain-washed sea, he stopped. Took it down. Walked over, until he was just in front of him. The steel was silent. “I forged this for you, the day you were born. This is your birthright.”
“Am I Fae too?” Chuck asked quietly, overwhelmed.
“Half,” Uncle Scott replied, letting him go. “Only half.”
Chuck wanted to touch. He did. So badly. He never felt right in the human world, back there, outside, before. There, there things felt right. There things felt real.
“What does that mean?” he asked, anxious without understanding why. “Can I pick? Like Elrond?”
Dad and Uncle Scott glanced at each other. “What do you mean?” Dad asked.
“Like Elrond, in Lord of the Rings. The half-elves get to pick which they want to be.”
“It’s one of his favorite stories,” Uncle Scott supplied. “The elves are strikingly similar to the Sidhe.”
“Ah,” Dad said, and laid the blade down on one of the long work tables. “There is a choice, of sorts. But it is not our choice. Our kind, our people, are not born of women, like humans are. The earth breathes out our lives for us. It can take what is Fae in you and make you anew here. If it pleases.”
Chuck didn’t understand. If anything he felt panic. Max pressed his head against the teen’s leg. “How do we make it do that?”
“Even with all my power as king, my son, I have no influence over life and death. Your remaking would be at the earth’s mercy. I could only pray for it, as I would to be sent any other child.”
Chucm was seized by a suddenly thought. “Do you have other kids? Like, do I have brothers and sisters and stuff?”
Dad hesitated. Uncle Scott answered. “Two hundred and fifty years we have been here in these lands the humans call Australia,” he said. “No child has been born to the royal family. Few have been born at all.”
“So my chances suck? That’s not fair!”
Uncle Scott squeezed Dad’s shoulder, and Dad leaned into him. “Many things in this world are not,” he said softly.
“Could I still pilot?”
Dad patted the sword thoughtfully, the expression in his eyes changing. “That is what we wished to speak with you about.”
“I have been away too long,” Uncle Scott said. “I need to come home. And your father will need a co-pilot.”
“If you were to become one of us fully, you would not be able to come back with me to the human realm, not for many years,” Dad finished. “My boy, my heart, there is nothing more than I would like to see than you come home to our people. But I need your warrior heart beating in the human realm. The threat is too great. You are losing nothing. Not yet. When I may, I will bring you home. Or you can try to stay now. If there is a choice here, that is it.”
Chuck swallowed, and nodded. It was more words than he’d ever heard his dad string together at once. “Those things killed Mum. I wanna pilot.”
“I know,” and he sounded sad.
They slept in the forest that night, but not on the ground. The highest room in armory - wrought from the boughs of the canopy of the tallest oak - held nothing but a bed, open to the night sky. It was huge, more than enough for one person, or two. Or even three.
For Uncle Scott took Chuck by the hand and pulled him in.
All they did was sleep, Chuck wedged in between his father and uncle, at ease in a way he had never been before.
All the rage he’d felt since the night he caught them together, melted away.
A month later, Dad and Uncle Scott wrecked Lucky Seven. Deliberately. Only just functionality left to finish the battle. Whatever Dad told Marshall Pentecost about it, it was enough to get Uncle Scott court-martialed. Chuck watched some of the trial footage on PPDN, in the break room at Kodiak Island.
He turned it off.
Uncle Scott was granted a one-day pass to see Chuck graduate. Top of his class. At fifteen. Chuck didn’t care what anybody else thought of it; he gave his uncle a big hug, holding on for dear life until the guard made him let go.
Everybody went to the O-Club afterwards and got pissed.
When Chuck woke up in the morning, it was in Dad’s bed at the hotel, with Max licking at his face, his throbbing head, Dad watching the TV.
Dad. Watching TV.
“What’s goin’...oww,” Chuck moaned, Dad’s dog tags clanging on his chest. (He’d worn them his entire life. .
So that was what a hangover felt like.
Dad leaned back and pressed two fingers to his temple silently, the pain ebbing. “Your uncle’s AWOL. The authorities don’t know where he is.”
“He went home, right?” Chuck asked.
Dad tried to pull back, but Chuck grabbed for him. Held on. Dad gave him a look, but he didn’t let go.
“If it’s okay there, is it okay here?” he asked softly.
“The rules are different for humans.”
“I’m not human, right? I’m... I’m half yours.”
“You are half mine,” Dad said, and shifted, facing him. “But you’re half human too.”
“Bein’ human sucks.”
That was the end of the conversation, disapproval dripping off his father. But at least Dad laid down with him, held him as his headache faded. It felt like being back in the forest.
Chuc wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not.
After all, he couldn’t go back.
Not until the kaijuu were defeated.
“In human years,” he said, as Chuck brushed his teeth, “I’m almost two thousand years old. There are plenty of terrible things I wish you didn’t have to see.”
“Anything worse than the kaijuu?”
“If you ever can’t handle it...”
His dad was the Fae king of Australia.
He didn’t know what to do with himself.
He didn’t know who he was anymore.
He couldn’t go home.
Sydney hadn’t been destroyed by that low-yield Triton missile the seppos dropped on Scissure. A few areas of the city had suffered contamination, but most were just fine. Most of the radiation had been absorbed by the kaijuu’s flesh itself. Some of the city had been abandoned completely, but most rebuilt or turned into parkland. The Shatterdome sat on the harbour.
Dad never went inland.
“Isn’t it your land?” Chuck asked him one night. “Don’t you need to check on your people?”
“Moving across the veil takes a significant amount of magic. If I were to do it too often, I’d barely be able to stand. Striker needs us fighting fit.”
“Why do you do it, Dad? What’s the point? The kaijuu are only attacking human stuff, right?”
And that’s when Dad showed him what Scissure’s attack, the nuke, had done to the fairy places.
Chuck never wanted to see anything that horrible again.
Like the sky itself had been burned.
The deep magics will heal, but it will take time. There’s only so much even we can do.
In a sick way though, a way he’d never mention to Dad, seeing the nuked-out Summer Lands made Chuck feel a little better. That he was doing this for everybody. Mum, Uncle Scott, the strange world he’d hopefully one day get to join. He wasn’t just some selfish kid who’d watched Gundam Wing one too many times; he was helping people. All the people who mattered.
Even as a Fae, he would have been useless.
But in the human world, he could fight.
And fight they did.
The kaijuu were coming faster, bigger, strong. Striker could keep up just fine, but some of the previous generation models couldn’t. Their first combat deployment came only three weeks after graduation, and Vulcan Spectre nearly got torn apart.
They fought her off, but barely. And overstressed some of their new jaeger’s systems in the process. Overloaded the neural feeds.
Chuck had gotten shocked before in sims, but he hadn’t been prepared for the pain of the burns, or the extent. Dad, of course, got the matching set. But while Dad had been able to peel right out of his suit, Chuck had to be cut out of his.
“Are you in pain?” Chuck asked, when they finally got released and back to their quarters, after Dad had settled them both back into bed, Max at their feet and no light but the fairy candles that used to illuminate those chess games. A type of glamour, Dad called them.
“Of course. That shit never gets any easier.”
“But why? Can’t you, dunno, magic it away?”
Dad ran a finger down the raised welts on Chuck’s chest. “I don’t mind sharing scars with my son,” he replied, after a good long while. “His first battle. You did well.”
Maybe it was the drift still rattling between them, or the closeness, or the memories of camping trips, but Chuck suddenly had a deep, aching need in his chest.
“Yes we did.”
“Tell me a story.”
“About anything. From... from the Summer Lands.”
“Your uncle’s the storyteller,” Dad said, but slid closer anyway, spooning Chuck proper, arm around his waist. His fingers trailed up, tugging at his dog tags, a gift from long ago. “Never been my strong suit.”
“Something?” Chuck asked.
Dad didn’t reply. But before Chuck could drift off to sleep, that bedroom in the canopy of the trees rose around them, the plain walls fading into living boughs, the ceiling opening to the night sky, the utilitarian itchy sheets replaced with the delicious softness of the lightest of silks. Starlight filled the space around them.
"Is this a glamour or the real place?
Dad said nothing.
Chuck wasn’t sure if he slept that night or not.
And things went on like that.
Torn between hate and love for a father he barely understood, who spoke little and never said his name. Caught on the edge between the Summer Lands and the human realm. Fighting a war that seemed un-winnable.
Until the Sydney Shatterdome was decommissioned, until they were forced to leave their country behind, a kaijuu’s body still smoking in the streets, for one last desperate push.
Despite all his protests about not wanting to move across the veil too often, Dad’s moods often took them there. Usually only for a few hours, to spar or train, to sleep, to speak with Uncle Scott, who was always tired, worried. Chuck never saw anyone else.
That night, his uncle was away, tending to the land where the kaijuu had fallen, so it was just them. Alone under the stars. The hold was a maze of sliding rock, of trees and low grass, dust and whispers and the low glow of morning, which clung even in the shadows, even in the night. Dad’s room, if you could call anything in that place a room, was on the edge of a great canyon, vistas sweeping out across the land and forest and the sea beyond. That was not his territory, he always said, the home of the merfolk and selkies and darker things that dwelt below. Worse than the kaijuu.
Chuck didn’t care for the view. But the bed, he very much liked.
He'd stopped caring a long time ago whether it was an illusion or reality; Dad was holding him, and it made him feel whole, so perhaps it didn't matter at all.
“I’m surprised you saw that,” Dad said, arms around Chuck, murmuring in his ear. “He’s not Sidhe. Not quite. He... he lost his soul somewhere. Or gave it up. That’s what you’re seeing, a creature who is of the deep magic and the deep magic alone.”
His soul? Chuck saw things in the drift sometimes, flashes, glimpses, like thunder on the other side of a mountain range, or at out at sea. Dad rarely explained things but he usually let Chuck find the answer on his own.
“What’s his deal?”
“You remember Yancy Becket? He was prince of the hold of... France, I suppose you would say. Took Raleigh as a consort in ’45.”
“Shouldn’t he be some withered up old bloke?”
“I’m not quite sure what happened there. More Fae than human I would say,” and Dad paused. “Enough of the Fae in him to move across the veil when he dies.”
“When he dies?”
“For a tree to produce seeds, the flower has to die.”
It was the most fairy thing Chuck had ever heard his father say, glamour or not.
“He has to die?”
“I have to die?!” he asked, sitting up, pulling away from his father’s warm embrace. "And I come back as a seed?"
“Your flesh weighs you down, your soul lifts you away, so you, your spirit, the magic that lives in your blood,” and Dad tapped his chest, “that must be freed from that horrible rending state that is your humanity. There is no death in that.”
The fuck did that mean? “Yeah, if Oz feels like it, right? When it hasn’t felt like it yet?” Dad didn’t answer, and Chuck closed his eyes, settling back against his father’s bare chest, his father’s fingers brushing through his hair. “What’s a consort?”
“A human claimed for pleasure. Sometimes by one, sometimes by many.”
“Did you ever...”
“The prince was quite selfish with him. Sadly. He is a pretty thing.”
You never do that with me, Chuck thought, but didn’t say it.
He wasn’t Fae.
So many things were wrong with his life.
So many things weren't fair.
Fucking Raleigh Becket.
Why should somebody like him have it so easy, when it had tortured Chuck his entire life?
Raleigh came by, probably looking for sympathy or maybe answers, but Dad was always short on those.
Chuck asked, but Dad wouldn't, couldn't, hold even a glamour. They slept in the scratchy Shatterdome bed, breathing the stale Shatterdome air.
He dreamed about the Summer Lands.
The cave at the heart of it, the fairy forge, where that line of swords hung on the wall.
He had never taken his off the wall. Dad brought him to the armory sometimes to train, show him how to fight and not just the stuff he needed for the Kwoon. He’d never gotten a proper answer on what enemies dwelt in the Summer Lands, but then, the enemy of the Fae seemed sometimes to be the land itself. Nothing made sense.
Dad could heal his arm, but it would still take days.
Something in Chuck knew he’d be dropping tomorrow. Dropping alone.
He could feel the cold, and the fire, and the end.
He wasn’t coming back, but that wasn’t a bad thing.
Chuck had never seen fear on his dad’s face before - his dad, the hero, the king - as he came out of the drive suit room. Max, good boy that he was, was sitting by Dad’s side, and Chuck took a moment to kiss him one more time. Uncle Scott had given him the bulldog; he hoped that meant Max was some kind of Fae too. Did they have dogs? He didn’t know. He could hope, though.
There was so much left unsaid between them.
So many things Dad had never told him.
Chuck didn’t care. They had time. He’d have time.
Like Dad had said, it wasn’t really dying.
“Stacker!” Dad yelled, as the Marshall drug him off. “That’s my son you’ve got there! My son!”
Chuck had never heard his dad say his name.
It used to bother him. Before he learned it was just one of those Fae things.
His beautiful, precious, half-breed son.
Such creatures as his son were not common. A human woman in the Summer Lands would not conceive, and few Fae ventured beyond the boundaries of their own lands for such things. In all his years, the king had only seen a scant handful. Some he couldn’t even be sure about, such as that Raleigh Becket.
It had not been on purpose, that the king had gotten Angela pregnant. A few years away from the hold, take in the current war, try to fathom the idiocy his humans were engaging in. That was all he’d been after. But a spot of fun at a local bar with some of his human squadron-mates, and next thing the king had known, a human sheila was sitting him down for coffee and nervously asking him how he felt about kids.
Not all half-breed children carried the magic in their blood. But his blood was royal, its magic deep and old and powerful, and of course, his son was born into it as well.
Humans were exhausting. Confusing. So short-lived, everything was immediate. Everything was wonderful.
It was a marvel, watching a child come from him, grow so quickly, love so much.
But the king had no experience raising a child, human or fae. No children had come to any of the Sidhe since moving to the southern island of red sandstone and ancient dreams, and he had been a carefree prince before, with no reason to want desire a son. It was quite unseemly to claim a half-breed as one’s own, but the king was not too proud to admit he was desperate.
Perhaps one day, the king told himself, the magic in his half-breed son would grow strong enough to be plucked out and replanted, a little seed to grow anew in the Summer Lands. Chuck reborn as a prince, full-blooded and content.
Chuck was so unhappy.
The king had never had known how to assuage his pain.
He had done everything he could to protect his boy, teach him their ways, instill in him a sense of respect for life beyond the comforts of the humans and their idiotic technologies.
If anything cared about him out there, anywhere, if there was any mercy for him, if any of the gods of the deep magic, of the earth, had ever been pleased with him, then perhaps there would be a chance.
He had not lied to his son; he had prayed every night, for many a long year, for a child, a little crown prince who he might raise to guard their lands once he was gone. Perhaps that was why Angela had gotten pregnant after a night of what was just supposed to be light fun. Too much longing. Too much need.
He stayed with the humans only as long as he needed to, in order to put their affairs to rights, to settle the politicians’ minds, to comfort Mako, who was mourning, and to deal with Chuck.
Chuck’s pod had come to the surface.
Unlike Mako, who had gotten through the battle and the ejection relatively unharmed, his boy was a bloody mess. Literally. Both legs shattered, three cracked ribs, a collapsed lung, kidney damage, a fractured skull and radiation exposure. The doctors, in their containment suits had stabilized him, but his hair was already falling out. They were not sure if he would live.
The king wasn’t sure if he would have wanted to.
Something had broken in his boy, on the ride back up from the bottom of the sea. Brain damage, the humans might have called it, but it was more fundamental than that. Part of him was gone. Likely, he would spend the rest of his life in a coma. If he woke up, he wouldn’t be the same.
There was probably a ritual for something like this, some spell to work, but the king had never been particularly gifted at magic. He held it for his people, his lands, could wield it in their defense, but this was entirely selfish.
He needed his son.
He needed him.
The clinic was empty, when he finally stole down in the dark hours before dawn. His son was alone in a sealed room, machines breathing for him, beeping, marking out the pitiful remains of his human life with that magic of human-make. He had always detested machines, but never as much as in that moment, watching them keep his boy alive.
His dog-tags sat on the table beside the bed.
He’d given them to his son long ago, to give him courage, and to mark him for all the Fae that prodded at him. He belongs to the Sidhe King, leave him be or face our wrath.
The king had brought his knife. Not one that had any meaning to him - this would be better without such clues. One he used to carry with him on the helicopter, back in Afghanistan, when the threats and possibilities were so different.
The door beeped at him angrily as he opened it, the AI fussing at him.
A spark of fire from his fingers, and the entire system burned out. Lights burst. Alarms died.
Another spark, embers scattering from his upstretched palm, and the room glowed enough for him to see.
He sat down on the edge of the hospital bed, touched his son’s face, tried to imagine what he might look like. In his heart, the king was afraid. Two hundred and fifty human years had passed since the earth had given his people anything; whether she was mad or indifferent, he didn’t know. It was almost too much to ask.
Saying something would only delay what he came to do.
So he just kissed his boy’s forehead. And slipped the knife between his ribs.
That strong human heart stopped instantly, life fleeing, body going limp.
The king did not have to die himself. Let go the glamour, let himself wake back into the Summer Lands. But Chuck and Herc Hansen were rather high profile, and had many friends left in the PPDC, and he had no desire to leave them with a murder and no answers.
“See you soon, son,” he murmured.
Pulled the knife out.
And, with Chuck’s lifeblood soaking his pants, followed suit.
“Woah there, brother. You have not have far too little to drink tonight to be stumbling just yet.”
An arm around his shoulders, and the king looked up into his brother’s face. Breaking out in a smile, he grabbed his brother in a bear hug, relief and joy washing through him. “It is good to see you again,” he laughed. “It has been far too long.”
“Has it?” his brother joked back, and turned him around, towards the sound of wild music coming from the halls beyond. “The bonfires are lit, the mead is flowing freely. We won. Come enjoy your victory.”
The king let his brother lead him away, down towards the outcropping that overlooked the great feast hall, carved from stone and wrought from a living grove. His people all turned as he came out to greet them, and a great cheer went up with the smoke into the dawning sky.
He was home.
He was finally home.
“My lord,” a young voice said. “It is an honor to be accepted as a guest at your feast.”
Raleigh. Or rather, what Raleigh had it in him to become, and the king did not miss the way his own king, the king of the western hold, was beaming with pride beside him.
He accepted the kiss, but stood and wrapped the young Sidhe consort in a tight hug, clapping him on his back and looking him over fondly. He looked much the same as he had as a human, albeit with his worries washed away, hair grown golden and long, twisted in braids back from his fair face, and he wore the twisted silver circlet of an official prince consort.
“Your king made a wise decision in you,” he said, and held out a hand to the young king. “It is good to see you both.”
“We heard of your triumphant return, and could not but rush here to bid you welcome,” the king of the western hold replied, smiling. “You were away a long time, milord.”
“The important thing is we defeated those fucking monsters.”
“Is Chuck here?” the consort asked politely. “He and I had some issues, yeah, but I’d love to congratulate him.”
Oh, by all the stars of heaven...
“Have you seen him?” he asked, turning to his younger brother. “Has he... has he come?”
His brother paled, and shrank. “What do you mean? What did you do?”
“He should be here.”
“My brother, my love, I have not seen him, nor heard any report of him.”
And the force of the king’s grief blew out every fire, every candle, every light in the hold. He sank into his throne, hands winding into his hair, tearing. “Find him,” he ordered quietly.
“Brother, the people...”
But nobody could find him.
His son was nowhere.
The king had never known grief such as what he felt at the news, every time some new messenger arrived to apologize for their lack of discovery. Despite the season, it rained, flooding the hold and making light impossible; he could not get himself together. Never, in all his years, all the wars and death and famines, had he cared in anything more than a purely abstract way. The pain of losing his boy was personal, brutal.
The king had never mourned for a human before.
Even his brother could not console him, not even when he retrieved the Fae-hound his son had loved so much from the human realm.
His brother did eventually eject him from the hold. Go back to the armory, behind the seals, and collect yourself. I shall watch your dog and your hold, but you must get through this. Wreck the place for all I care, just leave this misery behind! He was always going to die, and you did him a mercy.
Yes, such a mercy. So kind, killing him before he’d ever really had a chance to live. Training him to be a warrior, a prince, in a land and of a people he would never meet.
The earth was laughing at him.
He had no idea what he had done to deserve such scorn from her.
The armory was dark and cold, snowing in fact; it had always carried a bit of the old world with it, and the old world was deep in the grip of winter. It seemed appropriate, even more so when none of the fires would light for him. It was too cold to stand, for a Fae who had lived long in the southern tropics, and he eventually took his old wolfskin robe and headed for the forge, and the one fire that could never be extinguished.
The king sat there, staring at the swords on the wall. Each had been forged in turn by fathers for their sons, the first act of inheritance his family undertook, his own battle blade made by his own father, wielded in violence for the first time where he was barely older than his beautiful broken half-breed boy had been.
Had he done his son wrong? Encouraging his Fae side, training it, waking it? Would it have been more merciful to let him live his life as a human?
It would have been easier on him as a father.
No man should ever be asked to bury his son, he thought, bitter at the entire world.
The king knew not how long he lingered there, lost to his grief, but somewhere in the long night, he heard a sound.
He heard crying.
When he was locked in a cupboard. In the darkness. Alone.
He cried and screamed, kicked and banged, somewhere between rage and fear, but Mummy didn’t come let him out. The door was stuck; something on the other side was laughing, laughing more and more, the more he screamed.
And then it stopped.
Then the door opened.
Then Daddy was there.
Or somebody that looked like Daddy, but maybe wasn’t, because this man was wearing funny clothes, leather pants that fit very snugly, huge boots, a dark green tunic belted with gold, and he had something dark and sparkly in his hair.
A sword in his hand. Like in the storybooks.
And it made sense, but it didn’t, because this was the daddy who took him camping, who read him books and showed him the stars, who buried stones in the garden and taught him how to fight, who was gruff and silent and so gentle, who never smiled but laughed much, who didn’t love his Mummy, who flew helicopters and drove giant human machines...
But while that was who they had been, it wasn’t who they were. It was in the past.
They were here. They were home.
And the last of the human world washed out of the prince.
“Daddy?” he asked.
Daddy looked at him for a moment, just staring, and then collapsed to his knees, laying his sword aside. “Oh my boy,” he said, voice cracking, and there were tears on his cheeks. “You came home. You came home to me.”
“Don’t cry, Daddy,” the little prince said, crawling out towards him as fast as he could. “Daddy, don’t cry.”
Daddy shook his head, but opened his arms, scooping the little prince up in a tight, tight hug. He sat back, face pressed to his neck, cradling him close, sobbing like he had never sobbed before.
The little prince tried to hug him back, not understanding why his daddy was so upset.
He wasn’t scared anymore.
Okay, I think that's it! Sorry if there are holes... it's a lot of writing in a short amount of time so... I just really like this little verse. Turned out nice I think.