Falls the Shadow
by Eildon Rhymer
Sequel to Walking Shadow. Will, Bran and Jane have sworn to stand together, but the enemy is growing stronger, and newly-rediscovered friendships can be fragile things.
A key turned quietly in the lock. Jane turned towards it, unable to keep the relief from her voice. "Here's Will now."
The man beside her said nothing. After a morning of pacing and phone calls, he had finally slumped down on the couch, and stayed there, a picture of hunched anxiety. Now there was a fragment of hope again. It seemed that he, too, had placed his faith in Will Stanton.
"Jane?" Will called from the hall. "You here?"
I expect he knows, Jane thought, remembering how she had felt when tip-toeing into his room. Will knew she was here, but this was his way of warning her that he was here, in case she was changing, or doing something she did not want people to see.
"Yes," she called. "Here. In the living room." She swallowed. "With…"
She rose to meet him. They met in the doorway. The sun was shining through the glass in the front door, mercilessly showing how tired Will looked. Bran had barely moved from the door mat, and there was something dark and intense between the two of them that Jane could almost touch. The harsh light made Bran look unearthly, shuttered behind his dark glasses.
"In here," Jane said.
She moved aside, and saw Will see his visitor for the first time. His eyes widened, but he hid his surprise quickly. When he spoke, his voice was calm, and even his tiredness had been veiled. "Paul. What are you doing here?"
"Visiting my little brother." Paul's mouth twisted in a miserable attempt at a smile. "Is that so remarkable?"
Will smiled. It looked less forced that Paul's smile, but that was only because he had more practice at pretending. "No. I'm sorry I wasn't here. Do you want anything? A drink?"
"Jane's already done the hostess bit." Paul pushed his long hair off his brow. "I came here last night. I don't know who was more surprised, her or me."
"Me, I'm sure," Jane said. She had been trembling as she had crept to the door, sure that some awful enemy lay outside. She had only opened the door after questioning Paul intensely, and even then she had been half-convinced that the illusion would fall away as soon as he was inside, revealing the monster beneath.
Will sat down heavily in one arm chair, and Bran took the other. She could not see his eyes, to know who he was looking at, or what he was thinking.
"What's wrong?" Will asked his brother. "What's happened?"
Paul shook his head. "What sort of a life do we lead, that you can ask that? Have I really never visited you before? No, I haven't. Have you ever visited me? No, you haven't. Why do we let ourselves get so cut off?"
Will leant forward, forearms resting on his lap. "What's happened, Paul?"
Paul clasped his hands in his lap. His eyes flicked towards Bran. Will saw it. "Oh. That's Bran Davies. Bran, this is my brother Paul." Bran gave a curt nod, but that was all. To Paul, Will said, "He can be trusted, but if you'd rather…"
"Don't mind me." Bran gave a harsh laugh. "I don't know you. I don't care what secrets you have to confess. It's not as if I know anyone I can blab them to."
What happened? Jane wondered. She wished she dared grab Bran and go somewhere else with him. Paul would clearly prefer to talk to Will alone, and she had so many things she had to ask. Had they confronted the dead? Had Will been successful? What had happened to make Bran like this, as angry and closed-off as he had been right at the start?
"Very well…" Paul started twisting his fingers together, as if by concentrating on that, he could make his words a little less true. "I was playing in a concert a couple of nights ago, in the Sheldonian. I thought it would be nice to make a little holiday of it, as a surprise for Jon. It's our anniversary next week, and… Well, anyway, we were here and… we had an argument, yesterday morning. I don't know why. I don't really know what it was about. We were just bickering in that pointless way that sometimes happens, but suddenly he was screaming at me. He stormed off and…"
Will waited. His face was gentle, neutral. "And…?"
Paul shook his head uselessly. "He never came back. We only had the hotel room until noon. I had to go back and pack and check out. I've got all his things. His wallet, too. He'd left it on the bedside table. He's always forgetful like that, relies on me to do the paying. He's got no money with him. I've phoned all the hospitals. I've phoned his parents and his friends and our neighbours at home, but the lights were off all night. I don' t know…" His words trailed off in a sigh.
"I'm sorry." Will looked at him with those ageless eyes.
"It was all I could think of, coming to you," Paul said. He gave a distracted, apologetic smile. "I don't know why I didn't tell you I'd be in Oxford. You must think I was avoiding you."
"No, I quite understand," Will said. Jane thought at first that he meant he understood Paul's need to have a quiet holiday with his lover, but then she remembered that only a few days ago, Paul had not even known that Will existed.
"But then…" Paul sighed. "I was at my wits' end. I didn't know where to go. But then I remembered… And it wasn't just because you lived nearby. I know it sounds stupid, but I thought… It just seemed to me that, if anyone could help me, it would be you."
"I hope I can." Will's voice was still quiet.
Paul gave an embarrassed laugh. "It should be the other way round. I should be the one racing to my little brother's rescue. I shouldn't think of my little brother and see him as…"
My saviour, Jane filled in for him, silently. She saw in Will's eyes that he heard the same word, and sorrowed for it. He had told them that his family were entirely ignorant of the truth about him, but perhaps that was not entirely so. Perhaps, in some deep hidden place, a fragment of the truth remained, enough for Paul to come for Will when his need was great.
"Well, it's obvious, isn't it?" Bran spoke at last, startling them all.
Paul's head snapped round. "What is?"
"This Jon of yours has been…"
"No, Bran." It was a snap of command. "Leave it."
"No, Will." Paul spoke in a pale echo of Will's commanding tone. "I want to hear it, whatever it is."
"It was nothing," Will said, a gentle lie. "We've had a long journey, Bran and I, back from Wales, and with little sleep last night. There was an… incident in Wales. We've seen people acting out of character. Bran probably just meant that."
Paul frowned. "Drugs, you mean? You think he's on drugs?"
Bran gave a bark of laughter. Will looked sharply at him, and something in the look was enough to make Bran subside, and sit back, glowering but silent.
"Let's hope not," Will said to Paul. "But the priority is to find him. When we've found him, we can…" His hand rose half way to his brow, perhaps unconsciously. "Deal with what we find," he finished, barely more than a whisper.
Sitting on the edge of the bed, Will buried his face in his hands, rocked by a weariness so great that he did not even think he could stand.
First the battle with the dead, and with his injury not yet fully healed. Then the emotions that came from Bran finding out the truth, and then the long journey, started before it was even light. And now this. Paul, here, and yet more secrets teetering on the edge of being revealed. Paul here, and the possibility that the enemy had somehow taken Jon, and struck right into the heart of Will's family.
There was a quiet knock at the bedroom door. Will raised his head, passed his hand over his face. There was no time to rest, of course. And no time for self-pity. He would do what he had to, and that was that.
Even so, he could not find the strength to stand up and go to the door. "Come in," he called.
The door opened gingerly, and Jane peeped around it when it was only a crack. "Are you sure…?"
"Of course." Will gave a weary smile. "Come in."
Jane came in, almost tip-toeing, and pushed the door closed behind her. When she reached the middle of the room, she stopped, like a naughty child confessing to some pretty crime. "I came in before," she said. "When you were away. I…"
"I gave you my key, Jane," Will said gently. "There are a thousand wards I could have done, if I had wanted to keep you out of any one room."
Jane blushed. "I know, but…"
"No buts," Will said.
Jane played awkwardly with a strand of hair. "Did you know? That I'd been in, I mean?"
Will shook his head. "If I'd placed wards, I'd know if anyone had breached them, but I didn't, so, no, I didn't know. Not that it matters at all. It's just my room. There's nothing here. No secrets. Nothing real."
Jane seemed to be about to speak, but she bit her lip, and said nothing.
Will tried to smile. "Have you come to find out what's keeping me? I'm sorry. I came up to get changed, but I… sat down for a while. I'll be down in a minute. I know Paul's eager to get started."
"No, I didn't come to get you." Jane was still standing in the middle of the room, plainly ill at ease, reluctant to sit down anywhere, or even to touch anything. It was another little sadness to layer on Will's heart. "I came to… ask…"
"What happened in Wales," Will completed for her.
Will passed his hand across his eyes. "It almost went wrong. I… confined the dead, but I didn't destroy them. They're out of harm's way for now, but I will have to go back. I almost didn't even manage to do that. If Bran hadn't been there…"
"What's happened with Bran?" Jane asked. "He seems so…" She shook her head. "Like he was at the start, not like he was the other day."
"That is not my secret to tell you," Will said firmly. "Bran might, but don't ask him. Let him tell you in his own time." Jane could be a comfort to Bran, he thought. She had never lied to him. If she spent time with him, perhaps she could come to love him, and… "He found something out," he said, his voice a little strangled. "Something his father told him, about his mother. It's hit him hard. If he seems angry, it's because he's hurting inside."
"I know that," she chided him. "I've worked with children for years. I know there a many different ways people deal with hurt."
There was something pointed in her look. He chose to ignore it. "And what about you?" he asked. "What happened with Simon?"
"He's not joining us," she said shortly. "Maybe he believes, and maybe he doesn't. He didn't commit himself. But he said he'd be more use making speeches in Westminster, urging people to be nice to each other, than anywhere else."
"Perhaps he's right." Will let out a breath. Perhaps they would all be better off elsewhere. Bran had saved Will once, but would he do so again? All Will had brought to them so far was heart-ache. Bran had been told his terrible secret, and Jane felt that both of her brothers had rejected her. Chances were, in the final battle, Bran and Jane would be powerless to help him.
In the final battle… "I don't have the faintest idea how to fight him," Will confessed. "I don't know how to find him, let alone fight him."
Jane opened her mouth as if to say something, then closed it again. She crouched down in front of Will, so she could whisper, "Do you really think Jon's been taken over by the enemy?"
Will closed his eyes. "I don't know. Taken over? It's possible. Influenced? Even more probable. We saw how easy and far-reaching his influence can be. He can influence lots of people at the same time. It doesn't have to mean that he's killed Jon and taken over his body."
He heard Jane gasp, and realised that she had not yet realised the possible full implications of Paul's story. But she had not seen Mark's body falling lifeless to the ground, vacated by its host. He wanted to apologise to her, but could not. She had chosen to join him in this, and had begged not to be protected by forgetfulness. He would lie to them about some things, but he would never lie in a way that left them blinded and defenceless, ignorant of the true dangers to themselves.
"But if he's got Jon," Jane said, recovering herself, "then won't we start seeing things happening? Ghosts, or whatever they were. The dead rising."
"Probably." Will still had his eyes closed. He saw the dead, behind his closed eyelids, with grasping hands, drenched with his blood. He saw them coming for him, and he heard Bran's voice, calling, calling, but this time he was drifting too far away, and he could not find him…
"I made a list," Jane said hopefully. "All the places where he might be. It's from the news." A short pause. "Should we start patrolling Oxford looking for strange things happening, and fights, and people acting out of character?" Still, Will said nothing. Her voice was distant, barely there at all. "It would help us find Jon, perhaps. Or, at least, it would give us a clue as to whether the enemy has him, or not."
"Yes," Will murmured. He saw Bran, turning away, not calling to him after all, abandoning him to the dead. He saw the endless road of an exhausting car journey, and Paul's face, grey with pain and worry.
"You should sleep." Dimly he felt Jane's hand on his shoulder. He felt her push him gently over so he lay on his side, and fold the duvet over so it covered him.
He protested faintly. "But Paul…"
"Paul will understand," she said with unexpected vehemence. "You can't bear the whole weight of the world, Will. Not all the time. Not without rest."
"But I do," he tried to tell her, but the words would not shape themselves. He listened for the sound of her footsteps leaving the room, but it did not come, and then he slept.
Paul had his shoes on and was pacing the living room. "Where's Will?" he demanded, when Jane came in.
"Asleep." She refused to be embarrassed or apologetic about it.
"Asleep?" he exploded. "Jon could be out there…"
"Asleep." She sat down on the couch. After a while, Paul did so, too. "He was exhausted," Jane told him. "Of course, he was going to carry on. He would have helped you look for Jon all day, and all night, and all of tomorrow, too. He'd probably have even made you believe that he wasn't tired. So I… took advantage of an unguarded moment, and put him to bed like a baby."
Paul looked at her sharply. "Are you and he…?"
"You asked me that last night," Jane said. "I said no then, too. We're friends." She tried not to blush, and she hoped that Paul was too upset about his own problems to read any stray feelings that spilled over into her eyes.
It seemed that she was wrong. "I'm sorry," Paul said quietly. "You've not seen me at my best. I'm not normally like this. I didn't mean to shout. And I didn't mean for Will to work himself into the ground for me."
Jane immediately felt contrite. She wished that she was a magician, too, so she could make Will feel rested, but have him here for Paul, too. "It's only for a few hours," she said. "He just needs that."
"He did look tired," Paul said. "A long journey can be tiring, I know." He stood up, started pacing again. "And, really, I don't need Will. I can go and look for Jon without him. I should call the police." He stood, and turned to face Jane, his expression almost plaintive. "I just felt really strongly that it was Will… That he's the one that can help me. Yes, I know it sounds crazy, but…"
"I know what you mean," Jane was telling him, before she could stop herself. "I first met Will when he saved me from being attacked. It didn't even cross my mind to call the police."
Paul threw himself down on the couch again. "It's just that sometimes… No, you really are going to think I'm crazy…"
"I don't think I will," Jane said, but then she thought that perhaps she should not have said it. For Will's sake, she should have closed this line of conversation, have distracted Paul to talk about something else.
Paul raked his long-fingered hand through his hair. "Sometimes I find myself thinking that Will is… mixed up with something. I don't know what. But that he's important. That he can make things happen. But it's just a feeling. When I think about it too much, I know it's stupid. But…" He took a deep breath. "I mentioned it to Stephen once, and he said that he felt the same. I've never dared say it to the others, but what if we all feel the same? What if it's true?"
"It is true." Bran came into the room, uncompromising in harsh black and white.
"No, Bran," Jane breathed.
"Why not?" Bran demanded. "You want to keep secrets? To lie? Well, Jenny, the longer you keep secrets, the worse it is when they get told. Will might think it's acceptable to lie to his family, but I'm not going to help him."
"Bran…" She jumped to her feet. She pictured Will upstairs, asleep on the bed, maybe finding a semblance of peace in his dreams. He would wake up, refreshed, and come down to this.
"You're almost right, Paul Stanton." Bran strode into the room, imperious, implacable. "Will isn't your brother, not really. He isn't even human. He's a wizard. An Old One, he calls it. He and his friends think they saved the world some twenty years ago. They made us all forget about it afterwards, of course. They made us forget, and they lied. They always lie."
"Not always, Bran," Jane cried, "and only to protect us." Then she thought that she should have denied it all, because Paul was staring at Bran, white-faced and stunned, as if his world had been torn apart.
"There was a church…" he stammered. "A cross… But, no. Magic? It can't be. It can't be true."
"It's true." Bran was merciless. "And I'll tell you something else. Just yesterday Will was almost destroyed when fighting some dead people who had fed on his blood. He came back here to try to find the creature that raised the dead. It's something that will make us all destroy each other, and Will has to fight it. Jane and I are helping him. That's why he's so tired and can't just drop everything because you choose today to visit him for the first time in years."
He still sounded furious, but his words were at odds with his tone. It was almost as if he was defending Will, even as he was destroying him, by shredding another of his secrets, and breaking into the sanctity of his family's ignorance.
"Bran…" Jane tried again. "Please…"
"He's… fighting…?" Paul raised a shaky hand to his brow.
"An enemy who gets into people's heads and makes them act violently," Bran declared. "That makes them fight and kill. An enemy that can even possess a body completely. An enemy who can be anywhere in the world, and everywhere, or just in one spot, where ghosts walk, and the dead."
But it was clear that Paul had heard only a fragment of it, the only bit that mattered.
"Jon," he moaned. "Oh, Jon…"
"What have you done, Bran?" Jane shouted. "Look what you've done!"
Bran spun on his heels and left the room. Paul had hidden his face in his hands. Jane could only stand there, arms useless at her sides, and wish that Will was there, but also to wish most fervently that he would never come again, to see the ruins they had made of his family, she and Bran together.
Will woke up from a dream that faded the moment he moved, leaving only the knowledge that it had been good. He stretched, yawning, and knew that he had slept deeply and well, and for far longer than he should have done during any day, least of all this day.
The curtains were open, but outside it was darkening, heading towards a humid dusk. The room needed air, and he padded over to open a window. Outside was strangely quiet, with all the usual sounds of a summer evening muffled by a shroud of warmth and barbecue smoke. He heard a cat protesting loudly in the garden, and a blackbird chattering an alarm call, but human sounds were muted and distant.
But it's better that way, he told himself. The enemy did not work with silence. The enemy was screaming and anger and riots and hatred. If the world was sleepy and silent, the enemy had not yet completed its hold. There was still time, and hope.
But how? he thought heavily, as he had asked himself so many times. Then he shook his head. There was no time to muse and linger. Paul was here, and Jon was missing. Will had slept for too long, but Jane was right. He felt rested now, better able to cope with anything that was to come. Terrible mistakes could be made through exhaustion. He knew that well, if perhaps he had not always acted upon it. It was hard to, when you were the only one.
He moved away from the window, and headed to the bathroom to brush his teeth and wash his face. He wanted a shower, too, but he paused with his hands on the point of unbuttoning his shirt. It was silent in the house, too. He played back when he had heard when crossing the landing. Nothing. He had heard nothing. Had the others gone out? But they wouldn't, surely, not without waking him… Unless…
He rushed out of the bathroom, and headed downstairs, faster at first, but then slower and slower. Something was wrong. He could feel it, cold and shivering in the pit of his stomach. They hadn't gone after all, he realised, but they were all still there, wrapped in silence, and that was even worse.
Something had happened. Something had happened, and he would have to face it.
Taking a deep breath, he pushed open the door. He saw Bran first, curled at one end of the couch, twisted round so he was glaring out of the window, his back to the others. Will saw his profile, his skin darker than normal against the evening light from outside. It was set with righteous anger, like a statue of his father, carved out of stone.
Jane was the only one of them moving, her hands and fingers moving incessantly, clasping and wringing. She turned round when Will came in, and there was fear in her eyes, and terrible shame. Not afraid of me, no, Will realised. Afraid for me.
He knew the cause, of course. He knew it without needing to hear a single word. The answer was in the face of the third of them, the one he looked at last, because he had known even as he touched the door that something had forever ended.
Paul just looked at him, his expressive eyes full of unknowable things. "Is it true?" he asked.
He could have bluffed, dissembled, stalled for time. Is what true? he could have asked, or some nonsense like, What do you feel, in your heart? The thing was too important for that. "Yes," he said.
Paul frowned, a small furrow between his eyes. "Has it always been… like that? Have you…?"
"Yes," Will told him. "But I only knew since I was eleven."
"Twenty years!" Paul cried. It was closer to a moan. "I thought you were my little brother. My favourite brother. The one who understood me most. The one I…"
"I am," Will said quietly. "In one way, at least. In the ways that matter."
"No," Paul said bitterly, "because you lied to me. You lied to us all."
Will half reached out a hand. It was the only sign of emotion he dared let himself show. "I only did it to protect you all."
"No," Paul spat. "You did it to protect yourself."
Will could not answer for a while. "Maybe," he admitted at last, when he could speak again without his voice wavering and betraying him. "I made mistakes. I have been learning a lot these last few weeks."
Paul said nothing. Bran, Will noticed, had turned round and was staring at them with fierce interest. He looked ready to join in the attack at the slightest provocation. He was the one who had told Paul the truth, of course. Will should have expected it. After what had happened with Owen Davies, there was no way that Bran would condone a secret. Will wanted to say that he understood, and forgave him, but knew that would only make things worse.
"Would you ever have told me?" Paul asked, his voice pained. "If I hadn't found out this way…? If we found Jon, and he was… he was… not himself, would you have told me the truth? Or would you have fobbed me off with platitudes? Would you have made me forget?"
Will remembered Paul's face after he had seen true evil in a church. Some things were so terrible that people could never be happy again unless they forget them, or had them replaced with a kinder memory. The Old Ones had done it throughout history, and never thought it wrong. "Made you forget," Will had to say. "Made it so you could live, and heal, and be happy."
Bran was still watching, but some of the fierceness had drained out of his face. He no longer looked on the point of joining in.
Paul passed his hand across his face. "I don't understand how you could do all this. You're not who I thought you were. You never have been."
Will shook his head, but whether in denial or in agreement, he did not know. It was too late to argue. He had spent far too much time discussing feelings and the rights and wrongs of the past. It was important, but it was not the most important thing. Whether Paul hated him or not ultimately didn't matter. What mattered was the enemy.
"I can't…" he began, but Jane spoke at the same time. "It's not…" They both stopped, and Paul stepped into the silence.
"It's just hard, Will. I'm taking it like a personal betrayal. I know that. I know I shouldn't. I've just been sitting here… Partly I'm furious because you lied… but, really, I'm just… I don't know… You've lived with this since you were eleven? You've lived with this all alone?"
Will nodded mutely. He could cope with accusation, but not this. This left him feeling as defenceless as the child he had once been, before.
Paul shook his head slowly, his eyes shining as if with tears. "Why didn't you tell us, Will? We could have helped you. No-one should be alone, not ever."
"I…" Will could not manage the words. He swallowed hard, and composed himself. Not Will the boy, but Will the Old One, facing the hardest test of all. "There's no time for any of this," he told them all. "It doesn't matter how we feel, or what things are left unsaid. It doesn't matter if we hate each other, or have done things we regret. It's easier to sit here and talk about such things than to get out there and do what needs to be done."
"What needs to be done? How do we get Jon back?" There was hope in Paul's eyes, and faith. It was the most terrible thing of all. He never wanted to be seen as anyone's saviour, least of all his older brother's.
"We look," Will said. "In all the normal ways, just like you've already done, and I have ways I can use, too. But if he's been taken by the enemy…" He took a deep breath. "Then he will find us. I have no doubt of it. Are you prepared for that?"
"For what?" Paul asked. "Please tell me, Will. Don't spare me. What is the worst?"
"The worst…" Will said slowly, "is by no means certain. Please hold on to that. If the enemy is involved – and we don't know for sure that he is – it's mostly likely that he worked on Jon's mind, amplifying any anger he was feeling, but that it's already passed, or soon will do."
"But the worst?" Paul was relentless. "The worst is that he will never stop whispering? That Jon will be angry and violent for ever?"
He could say yes, but Paul had asked. Paul, and Bran before him, had said that lies were always wrong, even if they were done to protect the hearer. "The worst," he said, "is that Jon was already dead when you last talked to him, and that this thing, the enemy, had taken his body and was speaking as him."
Paul's clenched fists trembled, but slowly he straightened his back, and his eyes were grim and clear. Had this strength always been here, Will wondered. Perhaps Paul had always been able to cope with the truth. Perhaps he could have come to terms with the horror in the church, if Will had given him time to.
"Then let us go out," Paul said, "and face it."