Chapter thirty: The last night of the world
Here, Will thought. It would be here. It had to be here. Oxford was where it had started, and tonight was the night of midsummer, and the Wild Magic would be at its strongest, and would launch its final assault.
Tonight would be the end of everything.
People walked in the streets of Oxford, cautious and hopeful. The sky was a perfect blue, and the sun shone, warm and lovely. Electricity had been working for two weeks, ever since the attack at Avebury. More cars were running than normal. People were emerging from the shroud of fear that had covered them for years, daring to hope that everything was beginning to return to the way it had once been.
Perhaps they were right. This respite could indeed have been caused by Bran's actions at Avebury, but it was no final ending. The Wild Magic was gathering its strength for a final assault. That would come tonight, he was sure of it. It would be everything they had ever done, and worse. And afterwards… And afterwards…
No, he would not think of afterwards, not yet. He walked alone into the empty shell that had once been Merton, slipping through the locked gate as if it was not there. The buildings were deserted, but fairly intact. Ready to be reoccupied if we are successful tonight. No, he could not think of that.
Hand trailing on the stone, he headed towards the garden, where memories clustered round him people in a crowd. There he had stood and first felt the whisper of the Wild Magic. There he had fallen, and looked up to see Bran. There they had stood together in the magic hour when time had stood still. There they had touched. There they had kissed.
The gardens were untended now, and the plants were running wild. The Wild Magic ran thickly in every root and every branch. The old wall was almost crumbled away, with nothing to keep him from jumping down to the meadows, if he wished to. He teetered on the edge of the wall for moment, tempted to seek out his old room and wander through the memories there. No, he told himself. Memories were important, and would play their own role in this, but this was not the time.
He jumped from the wall, cushioning his fall with the Light. The meadow was overgrown, littered with rubbish and fragments of broken stone. For several steps, the memories left him alone. He had never walked here with Bran. He had never stood in this spot and felt grief, or pain, or happiness. This was blank. He walked through it, and it could not touch him.
The river was different. The Cherwell was smooth and black, and echoes of other worlds and other times showed in its still water. Smiling grimly, he settled down on the bank, and sank into memories.
Bran… Confessing in his room, as snow covered the world outside. Their first touch. Anger. May Morning, and waiting for him on the bridge, then coming down, racing through the gardens, rushing to the river, and finding him gone. Gone forever. Alone forever. Alone forever without love, and the world crumbling around him, and can't feel, can't touch, can't ever let anything close… Then Bran, back again, and walking far apart on the mountain path, and standing in the shadow of a cathedral. A circle of stones, and realisation, but Bran going ever further away, Bran retreating behind walls, Bran so pale and cold and miserable. Bran…
And it was still there, as it always had been there. It was still bound, and it still hated him. "But this time," he told it, "you will do my bidding, because I am human, and I am in love, and I have no doubts and no shame and no fears. You will obey me."
The river surged in hatred, water surging over the bank. The reflections of the sky turned black. Rank-smelling weeds coiled around his ankles like ropes.
"You will obey me!" he thundered, in a voice that had nothing of the Light in it, but spoke only of the anger and the anguish of a single man.
The water drew back; the river became glass again. Reflected in the water was the blueness of the sky, and the crystal shards that were the light of the sun.
It was past sunset. Will pressed his hand to the ground, and felt the distant tremor of an earthquake. The sky was shot through the streaks of black, and the air was hot and humid.
The river raged inside him, furious at its confinement, desperate to destroy him. Every time he relaxed, it hurt, like nails tearing him apart from within. In time, he thought. In time.
The lights of the city began to come on. Something stirred, prickling across the back of his neck. He closed his eyes, and opened them again. When he did so, all was dark. Not far away, he heard someone scream. Go in, he willed the few people still out in the streets. It will not be safe. Go home.
He sat alone beneath the ruins of the University Church. The Bodleian Library was behind him, still mostly intact. How many books survived? How much knowledge of mankind had died in the last few years, never to be found again? Mankind was resilient, though. He wondered how much knowledge had been smuggled out, how many priceless books had been hidden in caves and bunkers, ready to be brought out again when all was passed.
If it passed. He had no illusions. If he failed tonight, then he would never succeed. If he fell tonight, he would never rise again. The Wild Magic could not destroy an Old One, but grief could kill a human, and from tonight, and for ever more, the human part of him could not be denied. Humanity gave him strength against the Wild Magic, while his powers of Light only gave him immunity. If he failed tonight, he would wander a devastated world for all eternity. Perhaps the High Magic would take pity on him, and let him go out of Time, but he would not deserve it. If he failed tonight, he was lost.
"You cannot still have hope."
He raised his head without surprise. The Queen of Fairy stood before him, her beauty both heartbreaking, and utterly cold.
Will blinked, keeping everything else still. "Where is your brother?"
He saw the flicker of reaction on her face, and knew that he had scored a hit. It was true, then. Bran had destroyed the Lord of Fairy at Avebury. Good. Good. It meant that there was still hope. It meant that she was afraid.
"He will come," she spat. "He will come to feast on your carcase, Old One." They were meaningless threats; he knew it. They could destroy him, but not like this. She touched his face, nails like claws digging into his cheek. "Yes, Old One. Tonight will see us triumph for ever more."
He caught her gaze, and held it, staring impassively into her tawny eyes – so like Bran's. Oh, so like Bran's. That thought caused him to waver, and her grip moved to his chin, nails digging into his throat. No. He wiped that thought away, and this time she was the one who looked away first. Her hand withdrew, then returned, slapping him hard across the face. In a swirl of robes, she turned, and was gone.
Petulant, he thought. Afraid. But the river was rejoicing inside him, shouting and screaming. It hurt, and he pressed a fist to his chest, hunching over. His hands were shaking. The control of an Old One was escaping him. It was necessary; it had to be.
I don't know if I can get through this, he thought. He raised his head; stood up, hand steadying himself on the fallen wall. I have no choice.
He did not know where the day had gone. Twilight surrounded him, and the walls were crumbling. Voices whispered, called to him. He sensed Will walking in ruins, thinking of him, and he yearned towards him. He sensed the hope of the people who walked past, just legs without faces.
An earthquake surged through him, and it was the most alive he had ever felt. He felt the Wild Magic gathering in the sky.
"Go away," he pleaded, pressing his hands to his ears, rocking to and fro. He was curled as small as he could be, behind the wall of an alien tower, built by the hands of man. "Leave me alone. This isn't who I want to be."
The ground was trembling. Lightning flashed, the storm coming from nowhere, black clouds banking in the summer sky. He heard the roar as a building fell, weakened from some past tremor. Ghosts emerged from the wreckage, and started to pace the stone streets. As their phantom feet fell, the stone surface cracked, and green shoots emerged, gleeful in their destruction.
The world was ending.
Will stood up, towering over the ruins in his shroud of Light. "No," he commanded it. "No!"
"But this is who you are."
The voice was persuasive. It slipped in like a knife, and stuck itself solidly in his brain. It was everything. It was mother and love and yearning for home. Bran opened his eyes, lowered his trembling fingers, and saw her. This was the woman Will had shown him in the past. This was his beautiful mother, his ma, his mummy. She would make everything better.
"I don't want to be," he whispered. "I just want…"
"You don't have a choice, darling." She knelt down beside him, and cupped his cheek with one soft hand. His nose wrinkled at the scent of it. There was something familiar there, something that whispered of home. "I know it's hard, but you have to do this. Stop fighting it."
He let her hold him. "You don't know what I did."
"Only what you had to do, my sweet. You accepted the gift that I gave you. You became the person I always wanted you to be."
"Really?" Her arms were warm, and her hair smelled sweet. "You…"
"You have fought it for so long, my darling." Her arms held him tightly around the shoulders, so his own arms were pinioned at his sides. "First there was Owen Davies, who raised you as a mere mortal, so you could not become someone worthy of your mother. Then there was the Old One. He has made you ashamed of what you are. You want to become like him. He has twisted you. You must…"
"No." He struggled against her arms. "No. Will…" Her arms held him. Fear rose, spiking through the white walls that were barely enclosing him at all now. Her voice was the key. Her voice was the hammer that shattered the bars of crystal. "Let me go."
She released him. He was panting, sprawled at her feet, small and broken, and she was tall, she was a grown-up, she was his mother. Ashamed, he pulled himself into a sitting position, and rubbed his hand across his cheeks, smearing dirt and tears he had no memory of shedding. "I thought…" His voice was tiny. "I was afraid…"
"I will not force you," she said quietly. "Oh, Bran, how could you think I would do that? All I can do is tell you the truth. Do you want to live the rest of your life as you have lived these last two weeks, locked behind your walls, forbidden from love, drifting through whole days without noticing all the life that is around you?"
He shook his head; he could not help it. The movement felt grating, as if the very bones in his body resisted his denial.
"Then come." She offered him her hand. "Come with me, and be what you have to be."
The world was laughing. The storm cackled, and struck at him with lightning. The ground trembled, and the air told him gleefully of the thousands who were dying in cities not too far away. His parents, his brothers, his sisters, strangers, and friends…
The shambling figures surrounded him, ghosts and images of people who were long dead. They could not touch him, for he was shrouded in Light, but soon they would be so thick that he could not leave this place.
"Hold them!" he commanded the river. "Drive them away!"
But the river surged out gleefully, still under his control, but useless. It was too small – a tiny soldier, arrayed against the vastness of the armies of the Wild Magic. There was nothing it could do to stop the attack. There was nothing it could do the save them.
"Fool!" it laughed. "Foolish Old One, to ever feel hope."
A tremor shook the church, and a lump of masonry fell towards him. It struck his shield of Light, but the impact was enough to send him to his knees.
The ghosts of the Wild Magic surged forward and over him, and the last of the light was blocked out for ever.
His lips began to shape the word of acceptance. He reached out, trembling, and their fingers brushed. But then, again, he caught the faint scent that clung to her hand. Not a scent, after all, but a sense.
Bran snatched his hand back. As he did so, the blindness fell from his eyes. "You're not my mother."
The Queen of Fairy threw back her head, eyes blazing. "But you are of my blood, nevertheless. This is your doom, Bran Davies. You are to take up your birthright, and take the place of the one you destroyed."
"Destroyed?" The white walls were barely there at all, now – only the faintest white mist at the fringes of his vision.
"That is how it always is with our kind. One Lord rules, until another with more strength and more right casts him down in battle and takes his place. Come." Her voice was almost gentle, but brooked no argument.
Bran stood up. The last of the whiteness faded, and he was suddenly, intensely aware of the storm above, of the tremors in the ground, of the devastation that was about to seize the world in a grip so strong that there would be no going back, not ever again.
"You are not my enemy, Bran," she said softly. "You are my kin. Take your place as captain and commander. You can rule all this at my side."
He walked past her, standing almost shoulder to shoulder, each one looking in a different direction. He saw the darkness that roiled over Oxford. But, in the middle of it, fading and flickering, a pillar of white Light. He wondered what she saw. No, he realised: he was close enough now that he could know what she saw. He could see it as if her eyes were his own. With the slightest effort, he could see through the eyes of every being of the Wild Magic. He was everywhere, and nowhere. And he was here. He was Bran. And the Light that was fading was Will, whom he loved.
"No," he said, spitting the word out like a stone. "I never will."
And, head high, he started to walk towards Will. She screamed with fury, but he did not look back.
He had failed. There was nothing that the Light could do against the Wild Magic in such fury. The High Magic could stop it, perhaps, but Will was just one Old One – the last, the youngest of the Old Ones.
He had gambled, and he had failed. The river was nothing. To control the river, he had wrapped himself in memories, filled himself with the grief of loss, and the pain of unrequited love. He had laid himself bare, embraced every human emotion.
And now he had lost. He let his magic go entirely, and lay there on the cobbles, human, defeated, and broken.
The Light went out.
"No!" Bran started to run. "Will! Will!"
There was nothing. The walls were gone now, and he sensed it all. He sensed Will's despair. Will's grief and shame was like a fist closing on Bran's heart. Will was defeated, and there was no hope for the world. No, no, it was worse than that – more intense than that, more real, more… more everything. Will was gone. Bran was alone. There was no-one left. Will was gone, and Bran loved him. He loved him more than anything in the world.
He loved him. He loved him. He loved him.
And that was it. That was the end. There was nothing after that but screaming darkness.
He awoke to warmth on his cheek. He tried to roll over, but somebody was holding his hand, and something was next to him, like a body pressed into his.
Will! His thoughts were sluggish. He opened his eyes, and they hurt, they hurt. For a moment, he could not see. But the body beside him was warm, and it moved with the soft and steady rise and fall of breathing. It smelled of Will. No, he thought, with the certainty that came from a new and solid sense in his brain. It was Will. He would know that blind-folded, and a hundred miles away.
Bran sat up. They were in Oxford, in a Radcliffe Square littered with wreckage. It was early morning, but already people were up, emerging to a morning they had not thought to see. He could sense a woman opening the curtains in a house in North Oxford, and a child running half-dressed onto a lawn in the east.
Tell us, he heard. Speak to us.
He passed his hand across his face. Will was stirring beside him. He was bruised and marked with blood, but Bran did not think it was serious. As he woke up, Will pulled his hand from Bran's, but he smiled as he saw Bran looking down at him.
"What…?" Bran's voice was ravaged, as if he had been shouting for a very long time. He cleared his throat, and swallowed a few times. "What happened?"
He remembered seeing Will lying motionless beneath a great mound of ghosts. He remembered sending Will despairing, giving up.... dying. After that… No. There were flashes. Striding across the city, racing through the storm. Riding the lightning. Raging. A woman who screamed. Hands. Hands, reaching…
Will looked at him with eyes brimming over with pity. "You…"
"Lost control again," Bran finished for him. "Just like at Avebury." But worse this time, because he barely remembered it at all. He had ceased to be human. He had become the Wild Magic, possessing Oxford, scouring it with his fury.
A woman screaming, cowering from him, begging him for mercy. And howling, howling for the grief of it, because Will was gone, and there would no end to this, not as long as the world lived.
"I won't do it again," he swore. White walls didn't work. Maybe drugs. Or maybe there was no hope for it but to kill himself and end it all.
"But you saved us, Bran." Will smiled.
A woman screaming. Dark hair, tawny eyes… But not like that at all, just something wild and ugly housed in human form. Begging him for mercy, commanding him to obey her, but he struck her down, he destroyed her, and strode through where she had once existed. And he had laughed.
He could not speak, could not breathe. Hands to his face, breathing the truth into his cupped palms. "I killed…"
Tell us, they whispered, and the world trembled. The world was on a knife edge, waiting to go either way. Plants were frozen, halfway through their living. Rivers flowed sluggishly, and the air was still. Wild things crouched, muscles poised to spring, but did not do it. The whole of existence was waiting, and he did not know what to do; he did not know what to say.
"You destroyed the Queen of Fairy, Bran," Will said quietly. "Only you could do it. I realised that days ago. I'm so sorry."
Sorry for what? But that, too, he knew. The whole thing had been a trap. Will had brought him here, and had feigned defeat and despair, hoping that it would be the final trigger that would cause Bran to lose control again.
"You did this." He turned away, cold, and the waiting world trembled with expectation.
And other memories, too: A figure of Light that went with him, flying through the stars as he rode through the storm. A hand in his as he screamed in fury. A human hand reaching for him. A human voice, human eyes. Come back to me, Bran. I love you. And coming home. Stepping forward, step by painful step, towards the voice that called to him, towards the one man who could understand him, the one person who loved him unconditionally, and always had.
"I couldn't tell you," Will said. "I couldn't even think about it too much. If I'd spoken it aloud, they would have known. Light can't destroy the Wild Magic, Bran. Only the Wild can destroy the Wild."
Bran picked up a jagged rock, curling his hand around it until it hurt. "I don't want to be Wild."
"But you are, Bran." Will touched him on the shoulder, and Bran could not bring himself to flinch away from the touch, much as he wanted to. "There's no help for it, just as there was no help for it when I awakened to the Light."
Bran let the stone fall. It lay amongst the wreckage, smeared with his own blood. "I wish it wasn't…"
"There is no point in wishing," Will said.
They fell silent. They were two paces away, but they lived in different worlds. Bran was Wild; he knew that, and could not deny it. He felt an old man cry upon waking, and lovers roll into each other for another act of love. He felt their lust and their joy and their pain. He felt the hope and expectation of Will's parents, as they looked out on the dawn and thought of their youngest son. He saw Owen, feeling far more than he ever showed. He felt a summer storm in Scotland, and a volcano on the far side of the world. He thought he would go mad with it. He brought his hands up to the sides of his head, and clenched it, as if against a headache.
"I'm sure it will get better," Will said, "and easier to control."
"What do you know about it?" Bran blazed, and the whole world blazed with him. Branches lashed, and the wreckage rumbled. Spirals of air twisted in dirt-filled whirlwinds. Yes! Yes! something hissed, eager for release.
"I'm sorry," Will said. "But it must do. After all, she was always in control."
So there it was – the truth that Bran had not wanted to accept. He had destroyed the ruler of Fairy, and he was of her blood. He was her heir, her successor.
He laughed – a high and broken sound. "Am I going to grow wings?"
Will did not answer. The truth was inside, and Bran could not deny it. Soon, perhaps, the power of moving through time would come to him. He would live forever, unless someone stronger came and took his place. He could make his home in that castle beyond the reach of all mortals, and rule there for ever more.
He was the sworn enemy of Will, the Old One who had betrayed him. He was the sworn enemy, and all the might of the Wild Magic around the world was arrayed and ready for him, waiting for his command.
Tell us, it whispered. Command us, lord.
He turned round slowly. Will was sitting on the floor, most of his weight resting on one hand. He spoke no plea, merely looked at Bran with steady eyes – with the hateful, steady eyes of an Old One, whose magic was cold, and whose power was colder.
Bran stood over him. "You knew I would rather die than… that be like that again. Now I'm… what? A freak? Even more of a freak than I ever was. I'm King of the Fairies, for God's sake, Will. What on earth is this? I'm going to watch everyone I know die, and… and…"
Will just looked at him.
Bran wanted to hit him. He clenched his fists, and fought the urge. "Yes, like you. I know. Is this punishment? Is that what it is? This is your punishment for all those times I didn't understand what you were going through?"
We can destroy him, the Wild Magic whispered. He is of the Light, but his human side is laid bare to us. We can strike. You can strike.
"You couldn't bear to be the only immortal in the world. What did you think would happen? That we'd skip off into the sunlight and live happily for ever more? It won't happen, Will. We're too different. You're Light, and I'm Wild. I…" He scraped his hand over his face. "It's working on me, Will. All these new urges. It's making me hate you. I want to hurt you. I…" He tightened his fist. "I'm fighting the urge to hit you."
Will looked at him mildly, but his heart was racing, and his feelings were in turmoil. Bran could sense that. Will would never again be able to hide behind the mask of an Old One, not when Bran was concerned. "It's the Wild Magic," he said. "It doesn't need to be like this."
Striding over the city, riding the storm, reaching out, encompassing the whole world. Cities falling, mountains crumbling… And Wildness – rivers, forests, faults and fear, all of it rushing into him, arraying itself behind him, binding itself to him, waiting for him.
Command us, it beseeched him. This can be the end of the world of men.
He let out a breath, sobbing it into a laugh. "Of course it isn't," he said, through tears. "Of course I don't want that."
It trembled; it did not understand.
Bran drew himself up to his full height, feeling himself taller than he had ever been, taller than the mountains. "I release you," he commanded, his word and his will filling the whole earth and the atmosphere around it. "Let the Wild Magic return to how it always was, when Light and Dark were still in the world, and the Wild co-existed with the world of men. Let mankind live without fear and slaughter. Retreat to the wild places, and sleep in safe and restful slumber. This war is over. I will protect your wild places, but not with murder. Leave me now, I command it."
The echo of his words hung trembling in the universe. Afterwards, he let out a slow breath. He felt himself fading, shrinking, and he was a man again, small, in the ruins of a once-great city.
"Is that it?" His voice felt like the tiniest whisper of a thing.
Will smiled at him. "You know that it is."
"I can't…" Bran began, after they had made their way to the meadow.
They were sitting by a river that was no longer anything more than a river. There was wildness in all the natural features of the world, and Bran would never cease to be aware of it, but it was dormant now – only the faintest whisper, only audible when you knew where to look.
"You will control it," Will said. "The Fairy folk were always the highest order of the Wild. Their magic was different – far more intelligent. You saw her eyes. There was a coldness there that was not part of the Wild. Then they found a way to awaken all the more primitive incarnations of the Wild, and bind them to their cause. You were newly awakened, and didn't know how to keep them out."
Bran ran his tongue over his dry lips. "Are you sure?"
Will was still for a moment, then shook his head. "Not sure. But I think it's true."
The sun was high, shining down on a perfect midsummer's day. The flowers had never seemed so rich, and the scents of summer had never seemed so strong. That, too, Bran feared, was the Wild. He had senses he had never dreamed of, and there was no returning to the way he had once been, before he had accepted an offer from a beautiful woman on the first morning in May.
"What now?" He asked the question he had been unable to ask during all the long days lost behind his white walls.
"It will take a long time to recover," Will said. "There's been a lot of damage, but mankind is resilient. It might take ten years, or twenty years, but people will recover. Perhaps this was a warning of a sort. Although I was bound by my nature to fight the Wild and to protect mankind from the slaughter, mankind can also commit great evils. Men, too, can destroy the world." He gestured to the flowers. "It is not just the work of man that needs to be preserved."
Bran watched a tiny spider crawl across the back of Will's hand. "And you going to help?"
Will gently blew the spider off his hand, coiled its invisible thread around his finger, and deposited it safely on a stalk of grass. "Of course," he said. "As much as I can. Not that I can do a lot. This is something that's outside the power of the Light. And the healing of each individual person is something that I can't help with at all." He glanced almost shyly at Bran. "You can do more, I think. You are human and Wild. You commanded the Wild to slumber, and it did, but men, too, need keeping in check. I cannot do it, because the Light is committed to allowing mankind to make its own choices, but you…" He did not finish.
Bran stretched out his legs. The river ran only inches from his feet, and he thought that once, when he had been younger, he might have taken his shoes off and let the cool water run through his toes. "I wasn't actually talking about… that. When I asked what was going to happen next, I mean." His words were strained, awkward. He did not look at Will, but at the reflections of light on the surface of the water.
Will did not pretend to misunderstand. Bran could sense his emotions trembling – hope and fear all mixed up in one, but hidden behind the habitual calm of an Old One. "I don't know, then. What do you want to happen?"
"I want…" Bran swallowed. "I'm… It sounds ridiculous. Lord of the Fairies! But it's true. It's real. And you're an Old One. There's no way… How can we…?"
"I don't think it's impossible, Bran." Will shifted position, trailing his hand into the water. His fingers rippled, and the sunlight fractured into countless shards of crystal, casting reflections of light over Will's hand. "I used to think that love was impossible because I was an Old One. You showed me that I was wrong. Yes, you told me, I am of the Light, but I am also human."
"But I'm not human," Bran rasped, "not any more." He had been born to a Fairy mother, and a human father, touched by the Light. For most of his life, he had lived as a human, unaware of the other blood that flowed in his veins. Now that blood had taken over. He was Wild. He was Fairy, and that was all he would ever be.
"Of course you're still human." Will took Bran's hand. "It's obvious to me. I'm talking to you. You still sound like Bran. You still look like Bran. There's none of that coldness, that danger, that the Lord and Lady could never disguise. As soon as you realised what was asked of you, you banished the Wild Magic. You ended their war, Bran. If you were wholly Fairy, would you have done that?"
"I…" Bran did not dare breathe. The world hung suspended, trembling, but this time it was not the Wild Magic, waiting for his command. This time it was his own hopes. This time it was the quivering of his own heart.
"You are immortal, Bran, as I am." Will moved a little closer. "I am of the Light, and you are of the Wild, and that part of us can never meet. But you are human, and I am human, and…"
"I love you," Bran moaned. It felt like despair, like an admission of defeat.
"And I love you," Will said. His gaze was steady. "Why throw this away?"
He could think of so many reasons. This was so new to him. What if he lost control again? What if he became an enemy to all mankind? He could come to hate Will. They were different, so completely, incompatibly different. Will had told him that all along, but Bran had never understood it until now. There was no way they could be happy together. There was no way they could even try.
But Will had thought he would be alone for all of eternity. Everyone human that Bran knew would die. Will was the only person in the world who understood what it was like to be human, yet different. He was the only person who understood what it was like to have power. They were fated to stay together; they were fated to stay apart.
Bran turned away, stifling a moan. But Will was still there, sitting so still beside him. Bran would sense that almost-scent of him, as he had sensed it on the Lady's hand. He remembered the utter despair he had felt when he had come across Will lying broken in the square. Because I love him, he thought. I love him.
It was foolish to think about fate. It was foolish to stay apart just because there were barriers between them. "I love you," he said, still not turning round. "I think we must be mad to try this, but I… I want to. I want to try, I mean. If you do…"
Will's hand found his shoulder, gentle and chaste. "I want to." But then his lips found Bran's neck, and he pressed a kiss there that was still chaste, but promised so much more.
Bran turned round, and took his place in Will's arms.
Firstly, to those who have been following this story and others I've written in this fandom, just be warned that I'll be writing Stargate Atlantis fics for a while now. I certainly can't rule out writing in this fandom again in the future, but it won't be immediately.
Secondly, I am rather aware that the pacing of this story is a bit messed up. Through symmetry, there should probably be as much story after Bran's return from Fairyland as there was before. However, this was not to be. I found this story hard to write. The first half flowed fine, but then I hit a sequence of distractions – short-lived obsessions with other things, writing a DiR concordance etc. In the end, I knew I just had to finish it fairly quickly or I'd never finish it at all. However, this wasn't the only reason. The story itself demanded to speed up. The Wild Magic was mustering, and any additional events in the second part of the story just felt like padding. Emotionally, too, the story didn't want to linger. We'd spent 18 chapters slowly thawing Will's frozen heart, and here he was all frozen again, and I don't think readers could have endured another 18 chapters of it.
I did intend to visit Jane again, though, but Bran went and said no when Will suggested it, and I couldn't find a convincing reason to override him. There was nothing she could have done in the finale, though. Ultimately, this story all came down to Bran and Will.
The inspiration for this story was fairy legends such as Tam Lin. Last summer I read my way through almost every novel I could find that was based on these legends, and I wanted to do my own version. For months, too, I'd had a scene in my head in which a grown-up Bran was talking to his old platonic friend, Jane, when she admitted that her boyfriend thought Bran was gay. However, I had no story for the scene to go into. Suddenly, however, the two ideas came together, moved themselves to Oxford, and there was my story, pretty much fully formed. My original idea had the time jump as far more than 7 years, though, but I argued it down.
So there we are. It was hard work writing it, because of the distractions mentioned above, but I'm glad that I did.
Thanks to all who have reviewed and commented along the way.