We Shine Brightly (3/3): gift for [livejournal.com profile] bootson

Dec. 30th, 2012 10:49 pm
[identity profile] stuffitmod.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] bandomstuffsit

Part 1
Part 2


The morning dawns bright and Brendon wakes up blinking away sunlight. It’s mildly painful. He scoots enough to sit up. Frank and Gabe are still asleep on either side of him, which won’t be the case for much longer seeing as Brendon’s not the most graceful when he’s in the middle.


The only time he has been, lately, was back at the inn. He would crawl down to the footboard and slip out of the bed without making much noise. Whereas here, they’re jammed together over frozen ground and being outside puts them all on guard regardless of the cypress and hazels watching over them.


“How long have you three been together?” The voice is low and almost hard to hear.


Brendon rubs at his eyes. He’s still waking up and the sight of the wolfkin from the night before stirring a pot of something that sounds like it’s simmering is a bit much for his brain at this hour.


“Huh...oh ummm. We met when I was fifteen. I’ll be, uh twenty-four in the spring.” His words sound slow and confused to his own ears. It’s not that he’s confused. He’s just, not exactly sure what he’s being asked. Coupled with being awake for less than five minutes means he’s having trouble completely understanding the full implication of the question.


The wolfkin grins at him. “You sound like you’re not sure, Brendon, right?” At Brendon’s nod he places the pot back on what’s left of last night’s fire. “I hope you don’t mind, I woke up early and rummaged through your things. I only found oats and water.”


A smile tugs at Brendon’s lips when the wolfkin makes a face as he mentions oats. It’s hilarious, in a way.


“I’m sure, it’s just early. And it’s fine. You didn’t have to make breakfast.”


At the word breakfast, Gabe stretches at Brendon’s side before lifting up and resting his cheek against Brendon’s sleep-rumpled hair. He mumbles a sleepy good morning into Brendon’s hair before saying anything else.


“Oh, breakfast. How are you feeling? I’d be more polite, but I don’t know your name so, direct and to the point it is.”


There’s a muttered grumble from the ground when Frank rolls onto his side and tries to hide from the sunlight by pressing his forehead against Brendon’s hip. “You’re never direct and to the point, Gabe. I’ve walked circular paths more too the point than you’ll ever be. Also, you’re too damn loud.”


The wolfkin pulls the pot off of the barely lit fire. He’s laughing and Brendon’s reminded of the horses back home when he’d brush them while they were in a good mood.


“I like you three.” The laughter dies and the wolfkin stuffs his hands into borrowed coat pockets. “I feel better. The salve worked, thank you. I wasn’t expecting anyone to hear me. Last night, Brendon, you said you’d help me find my, ummm, friends. Are you still offering?”


Gabe straightens, his cheek no longer resting on Brendon’s head. He’s awake now, and there are things to be done before they leave for the day.


“He wouldn’t have mentioned it if we were going to play take backs. On one condition, though.”


The wolfkin stiffens and Brendon turns his head to stare at Gabe. It’s not a secret that the guy in front of them has nothing of worth on his person.


Frank shakes his head and leans around Brendon to jab Gabe in the chest with a finger. “And I’m the cruel one, Saporta? We didn’t talk about conditions last night.”


Gabe takes the jab good-naturedly. He pats Frank’s shoulder a few times. “No, you still hold that title, Frankie. What would the dwarves say if I took that away from you? I was just saying we don’t know his name and you interrupted me before I could be reassuring.”


Brendon stands and goes to Frank’s pack to pull out the set of bowls he carries to go along with the pot that’s already been found. Gabe pauses to take a breath and roll his shoulders before addressing the wolfkin again.


“What I was going to say before everyone jumped to conclusions, is that we can’t, or at least, I can’t keep mentally dubbing you the Wolfman. So a name in exchange for help. Maybe a few descriptors of your mates so we know who to look for, but that’s it. No walking across hot coals or selling of your first born child. I know it’s a hefty price, but I have to draw the line somewhere.”


Sometimes Gabe tries too hard to be disarming and Brendon smiles because the ensuing thread of words are always amusing when strung together. The wolfkin must think the same thing for he laughs again before pulling his hands out of coat pockets and giving them his name.


“Pete.”


Frank takes the bowls from Brendon’s hands. “Now that proper introductions have been made, it’s time to shut up and eat. There’s no telling how long it will take to find our way out.”


Breakfast isn’t the best they’ve ever had, but then oatmeal has to be stirred a certain way for it to be perfect. If you don’t follow every set of stirs to a t then you either have paste or oat soup. Brendon doesn’t really care. Food is food. He can be picky when they get home.


Lady Luck flutters her wings before landing on his shoulder. “The trees are tricksy. I do not like them.” Her trilling whistle is low. She sounds aggravated and unamused.


Brendon reaches up and pats her crest lightly. “Were they mean?”


There’s a slight ruffle of feathers and a chime-like huff. That’s a no then.


“They snub newer magic. This will be a problem.” Lady Luck presses her tiny head against Brendon’s neck before launching off his shoulder. No doubt, she’ll spend most of the day in the air, especially if she dislikes the trees for not giving her the time of day.


Pete watches her fly away. Brendon’s expecting him to say something about Cardinals or talking Birds. He doesn’t.


They spend three days wandering the forest in circles. Outside of the clearing, the trees are as misleading as Lady Luck warned and Pete has trouble remembering where he last was before The Hunt began. There’s not a spell that works in determining the way out and Frank’s compass needle just keeps spinning and spinning and spinning.


It makes for fun times, especially when Frank gets exasperated over the trail vanishing or the sound of rushing water that never turns into anything solid. It’s as if even sounds in the forest are having a grand, old time playing tricks on his ears. They’re traveling mostly blind, the only bright spot in the gloom being Frank himself, who can actually track when he has to. He’s just unhappy with there being no points of reference. It’s a challenge, and Frank can’t help but angrily push forward.


Lady Luck helps when she can, but it’s as if the trees keep shifting and blocking the path she claims to see from overhead.


Pete tells them stories about his life before. How he met his mates, who are brothers -which is not something Brendon ever expected, to be honest. The stunts he’s pulled off over the years and everything inbetween that he can think to elaborate.


He’s wearing Brendon’s spare coats and gloves now. Apparently, Brendon’s heavy winter coat and gloves were starting to irritate his still healing skin. Magic sensitivity was how he put it. The fact that Brendon rarely wears his spare clothing means that the fabric has less exposure to the magic than his well-worn ones.


It’s the first time he’s ever heard of such a thing. Sure, his magic is strong, but he’s never had to think about build-up. Though, perhaps, that explains why, even with the tight collar, he feels at home in the thick winter coat Greta and Spencer bought for him. His magic has settled into every stitch by now and it’s welcoming.


Midday on the fourth day, they’re resting under a birch tree. Well, it’s more like they’re ringed around the juvenile’s trunk with Lady Luck set on his knee tilting her head this way and that, while they munch on the tree bark Gabe harvested for lunch. Pete doesn’t seem very happy about a decidedly non-meat diet. However, he doesn’t run off in search of winter hares or squirrels to boil or eat raw.


Gabe’s telling a story about the sea while Brendon keeps interrupting him with random snatches of song. It’s fun trying to find just the right stanza to sing to get him to pause and lose his train of thought. Frank spends the whole break wiping at the glass walls of his lantern with a tattered rag. Occasionally, he’ll pick apart Gabe’s story for the hell of it or argue with Brendon about his choice in lyrics.


They’re packing up to start moving again when Pete cocks his head to the side as if he’s listening to something not even Lady Luck can hear. When the noise doesn’t seem to carry, he shakes his head. For the next hour, they do nothing more than walk, hopefully, in a straight line. Lady Luck sings when she gets bored and conversations spring up and die down at a steady pace.


There’s a lull in the chatter when Pete suddenly speaks up.


“You mesh well together. How did that happen?” His voice is an unsteady mix of mild awe and envy sprinkled with a dash of jealousy.


Brendon can understand. It must be terribly hard to be mated to siblings who have no compunction to muddle their blood bond with that of a sexual one. Not that Gabe and Frank are Brendon’s in that way, or vice versa. Pete only thinks they are and that’s all that matters in this context.


As always, when there’s an opening to be harsh, Frank takes it. “We’re not siblings.” He doesn’t pause to be dramatic or try and explain to Pete that they’re not together. He just goes straight for blunt and leaves it at that.


Gabe hisses out a low, angry Frank. Which doesn’t end anything.


Frank pauses at point. He turns and glares at Gabe. “I’m only being honest. He asked a question, so I’m giving him the courtesy of telling the truth. We’re not related, which makes this easier. Natural.”


Brendon runs a hand across his knit cap. He doesn’t have a single clue as to what Frank means by this.


“Pete, I’m sorr-” Brendon’s not sure what he’s attempting to apologize for: his ignorance on Frank’s word choice, the truth that being unrelated does make things easier, or Frank’s biting tone. Maybe it’s a combination of all three.


It doesn’t matter, though, because there’s suddenly the sound of chittery laugher buzzing in his ears in a distracting manner. Pete must hear the noise too because his head cocks to the left and his vision goes distance as if he’s trying to parse out where the sound is coming from.


Lady Luck takes to the air without saying a word. Either she doesn’t know what the laughter belongs to or she does and thinks it best to stay out of the way. Pete doesn’t seem to think the same because he whispers something under his breath about goblins before taking off in a direction that looks to be random at best.


Goblins. Well, that’s great.


Brendon’s not a fan of the evil, little buggers. He’s only had the chance to meet one once. It was alone and vicious. The stable hands had to use iron to bind the thing to protect the horses from harm.


His father later explained that the vile creature was a pack animal. Being alone meant that either he was lost, abandoned or scouting for trouble.


An abandoned or lost goblin is better off dead before it gets a chance to inflict damage on people or property because their destruction signals other goblins to the area. It’s a mating call of sorts. A way for a singular wretch to once more find a home amongst brethren.


Pete’s mentioned goblins before. In fact, the pests were the reason he and his got waylaid in the forest in the first place. Brendon doesn’t want to imagine how much he must hate the mischief-makers.


Frank sighs. “We’re following him. Come on. No one deserves to face those teeth munchers alone.”


With something substantial to track, he’s finally able to pick up a trail. Pete’s not far enough ahead to worry. Brendon can still hear the wicked laughter if he strains to listen to the wind as it whips by. There’s no howling and the air is empty, no scent of spilt blood cloying the crispness.


Gabe spends their trek forward admonishing Frank for being brash. Neither he nor Frank mention Pete’s gaffe. To Brendon, he seems more aggravated with Frank for bringing up Pete’s inability to ever find cohesion as opposed to setting the record straight.


“What does it matter, anyway?” When confused, Brendon will always ask questions. His mother used to rest her head in her hands when he had trouble grasping something because his inquiries were rapid-fire and ceaseless.


“We’re not together, so it’s a moot point.”


Frank and Gabe both still. Their bodies go rigid. Frank’s fingers are white-knuckled around his staff. Gabe’s eyes are wide and Brendon feels like he’s said something terribly wrong.


“You’re the one who put the notion in his head.” Frank’s words are as sharp as shards of broken glass.


Gabe places his hand on Frank’s shoulder. “Brendon, do you want to tell him he’s mistaken?” His voice is slow and deliberate, sad.


Brendon pulls his knit cap off and cards shaky fingers through his warm hair. The truth is, no, he doesn’t want to set Pete right. He likes the assumption as it stands.


“I....I...no, I don’t. We’re not together, but I don’t care. I like being able to pretend, at least, for a little while that we’re more than just friends.” He words start out weak as a newborn foal stumbling as it tries to walk for the first time. They find their footing when he gets to but I don’t care and by the time he’s finished he’s standing straight staring at his friends with resolve.


He won’t let himself feel embarrassed or wrong for his emotions. Gabe and Frank, they’ve been his world for so long. There’s nothing exciting or joyous waiting for him without them at his side. Sure, he’d survive without them, but that existence would be bleak and hopeless.


A rain cloud forever hanging over his head, drenching him to the bone, over and over and over again.


“I told you we needed to talk about this before we left the bubble. He’s willfully blind at the worst moments, but you said no, Frankie, he gets it. We’ll be fine.” Frank knocks Gabe in the leg with his staff. “This is not fine.”


Brendon blinks. He wasn’t expecting that. Gabe barks out a laugh and shoves at Frank.


“I was wrong. It happens. Don’t crow too loudly at that confession.” The grin slides off his face when he turns his attention back to Brendon. “What if we were more than friends? Would that be acceptable?”


Acceptable?


Brendon blinks again. Of course, it’s acceptable. He’s nodding furiously before his brain can catch up with his body.


Yes, please.”


A cacophony of hisses and painful shrieks break the moment. Brendon shoves his knit hat over his ears once more. He would have liked to kiss Frank before having to run off in pursuit of their continuing adventure. Lord knows he’s dreamed of kissing both Frank and Gabe for months, but that’ll have to wait a little longer.


Frank lets his hand slide down his staff a few inches. “We can talk more later. Right now, we need to go.”


And like that, they’re running through the forest, Frank leading the way.


When envisioning goblins, plural, Brendon was imagining a throng of squirrel-sized pests. Several dozen green, black creatures at the least, maybe even more than that. Not a handful of cackling goblins using natural magic to control tree branches and roots for their own perverse amusement.


Pete’s using a hazel branch to swipe at the goblins when they get close. Two are dead, or Brendon hopes that they are. He toes at a limp arm with the tip of his shoe. The thing doesn’t move, so he steps over it while ducking a tree branch that comes down to try and smack him in the head.


He won’t be much help in this fight. Not that Gabe will be either. Frank, though, sweeps into the fray, using his staff to knock into the goblins and shove erratic roots out of the way.


The goblins jump, squeal, and hiss. “It’ssssss an asssssspen. Fire warrior. Leave ussssss be.”


Pete growls and Brendon’s about to take his coat off to use as a net when he’s yanked to the ground by a root that’s wrapped itself around his ankle. His elbow cracks against the frozen ground painfully. Thankfully. he doesn’t break any bones. The root begins to drag him and he realizes that they’re not alone.


The goblins have enchanted a hollowed-out elm into a cage of sorts. There’s a guy already shoved in amongst the writhing roots and branches. Brendon yells out as much to Gabe while fighting with the root around his ankle.


He’s never been a natural magic user. Anything breathing or living, he has no power over. Lady Luck is an exception because she wove her magic in with his when she first followed him.


Elm branches scratch at his arms and neck. It’s a fight Brendon can tell he’s losing. He can’t even twist far enough to watch Pete and Frank finish off the last of the goblins because the elm has decided it isn’t going to stop even though the goblin magic should already be dissipating.


There’s yelling. Lots of it. The sound hurts his ears. He can’t figure out why, until he realises the elm’s been systematically cutting into any soft spot that it can reach and he’s been twisting more than enough to expose plenty of skin for bloodletting.


It was once a common ritual for those of magical blood to feed their gardens drops of blood as a gift of thanks. His mother used to venture into her garden at dawn on the last day of spring with a sharp knife in hand. The roses would produce beautiful blooms for her and in return she would give them blood as a gift offering.


The elm has gotten a taste for crimson and it likes the tingle of magic, or whatever it is that Brendon’s blood tastes like. He curses and tries to fight the branches and roots. He’s no longer being tugged toward the center of the tree’s trunk. Oh no, of course, he isn’t. Offerings are for being laid at the feet of the receiver, not being held at their bosom.


His vision grays. The elm wouldn’t kill him. It isn’t nearly as stupid as to slaughter a good thing.


But it is greedy.


One minute, he’s trapped and the next there’s the thrack, thrack, thrack of an axe blade hacking into wood.


Cool fingers touch his throat and he coughs. Gabe tugs him into a hug while Frank rakes shaking fingers through his hair. Brendon closes his eyes and burrows his head against Gabe’s chest. He feels tired and wrung out.


“Do you have a match?”


The question pulls him away from clinging to Gabe and Frank. There’s a man standing close. He’s leaning on an ash-handled axe. Brendon rubs at his eyes with a dirty hand. The man looks the same as the one in the elm cage.


Frank drags a match from his pocket and hands it over. “We don’t usually condone the slaughter of living trees, but I think we’ll make an exception this time.”


Brendon whips his head around and fights the dizziness to see the man set the elm tree on fire. The tree’s been chopped into pieces. Only something enchanted could make such quick work of something that old.


Very few woodcutters can handle enchanted axes. They’re much too attuned to the natural world to not chafe at material magic. It seems this woodcutter is either fine with the discomfort or doesn’t feel magic -natural or material- period.


Gabe pulls out his medicinal bag and begins to clean Brendon’s cuts. Frank and Pete sweep the goblin bodies into the slowly growing fire while the woodcutter adds more and more pieces of the elm to the flames.


They spend the night near the flames that gut and flicker before blazing only to almost go out again. Elms are notoriously bad at burning steadily. Brendon thanks the woodcutter for freeing him and learns the man’s name in exchange. Ray’s been tracking the goblins ever since they uprooted a holly tree from the center of his village. The foul monsters aim to trick the fairies living amongst the leaves and berries into venturing out so they can eat them.


“The vermin broke the wards a few nights ago and swarmed in, carting the holly off while everyone slept. One of our newer residents heard them as they were leaving. He alerted the night watch. He and his brother attempted to come with but the forest would not let them pass.”


Ray’s voice is strong, albeit somewhat higher in pitch than what Brendon would expect from a man of his stature and occupation. He’s a solid storyteller. Not so dry and short as to be curt nor so gorged on detail as to be bloated with prose.


Pete sits up straighter when Ray mentions brothers. Brendon exchanges glances with Frank and Gabe. It could just be a coincident, but why take chances?


“Newer residents?” Gabe asks before Pete has a chance ask the myriads of questions he, no doubt, wants to lay into.


Ray nods and ties his long, curly hair back with a length of leather. The strands keep escaping and Brendon’s watched him pull his hair back several times in the last hour alone.


“The village is beyond the treeline. We offer sanctuary for all those who have come through the forest with the need for a new home. Gerard and his brother, Mikey, stumbled into our village at dawn the second day of the Death Hunt. It isn’t the first time that this has happened, nor will it be the last. The elders said they could stay until they felt the need to leave.”


Pete wrings his hands and his teeth sharpen before he can control the minor shift in form. Ray doesn’t bat an eyelash at the display. He’s a very peculiar woodcutter, not even tensing in the presence of a wolfkin.


Brendon wants to ask him about his past adventures, the village where he lives, and a million other things that might illuminate why he’s so unruffled. However, to do so would take away from Pete and his inquiries on Mikey’s health, Gerard’s mood, and any other tiny detail Ray might remember about them.


The night stays cold and Brendon rests his head on Frank’s shoulder. He drifts in and out of sleep while Ray and Pete talk. Gabe pets at his hair constantly. Brendon kisses him sleepily without meaning to. Gabe smiles at him when they part and Frank nips at his lips before telling him to sleep. It’s not a command Brendon has any issues following.


Dawn creeps up on them slowly. Clouds shroud much of the sun’s light. The fire from the night before smoulders, gray, gray smoke slowly reaching ephemeral fingers skyward.


Pete’s whispering to Ray when Brendon wakes.


“They’re treefolk. Only they claim they aren’t. If anyone could find a holly, it would be them.”


Brendon can’t understand why Pete insists on calling them that. If Brendon was a true willowfolk, the elm wouldn’t have attacked as it did. That’s not even mentioning how easy natural magic would be if that was fact.


Nails scratch at his scalp. Frank’s awake as well.


“Frank could find a tree, easily.” Gabe’s amused and also awake.


Brendon grins and yawns without meaning too. His body feels heavy. He’s still exhausted, but he’s bound to stay that way for a few days.


Frank huffs out a breath. “Your faith in my skills is appreciated, but let’s not forget the clan of goblins that come with said tree.”


“We just need a better plan this time.” Brendon presses a chaste kiss to Frank’s cheek before giggling when Frank smiles at him in a rare way.


Gabe breaks the moment by being a smarmy master of snark. Brendon kisses him into silence.


Frank shakes his head and calls them all idiots. “So what type of plan?”


With Ray and Pete’s help, they come up with a strategy to track the goblins, lure them out of their home, kill them, and retrieve the holly. If they’re lucky, they’ll be in the village a few days before Christmas Eve, holly tree in their possession.


Their timetable depends on how cooperative the rest of the trees are.


The hazels and cypress are nice as are the occasional birches. However, the majority are not. Elms trip them as do maples. The dogwoods tangle their branches together in such a way that they have to double back and find a better way through.


Ray threatens to use his axe. Pete continually stops him. The elm was warning enough. If they go about chopping down the whole forest then they’re just giving the place a reason to trap them.


This isn’t the safe spots where Ray fells trees to sustain his livelihood. It’s the heart of an ancient forest. The rules aren’t the same here as it is on the fringes of the treeline.


Lady Luck sticks to Brendon’s shoulder. She twitters and whistles sharply if a tree limb tries to reach out for him. She’s on guard and as tense as Frank and Gabe are.


“I wasn’t there before.”


Brendon runs a finger over her crest. He doesn’t blame her for staying far from the goblins. They could kill her easily. A Bird would be a boon for their magic. A boost of power that none of them need.


“I am glad you were not.”


The goblin clan stays hidden for four days. Ray and Pete spend hours maligning the creatures. Frank uses his staff to bat away wayward tree branches and roots. He, Ray, and Pete are doing their best to track the goblins. Gabe stays out of their way. Brendon uses the time to teach Gabe spells he couldn’t when they were in the bubble.


They’re mostly water enchantments that he’s never been able to master. If anyone could get the hang of the spells, it would be Gabe. The best Brendon could ever do was enchanting a metal rod to find water for him. There’s a spell for touching the ground and drawing water to the surface, but he has always failed.


If it wasn’t for Greta, their timeless bubble world would be cold and clinical. A barren room with little warmth. Brendon could build the supports and the doorway, just not the contents. Like he’s said before, he’s material, not natural.


Gabe practices by touching the trunks of the more temperamental trees. Eventually, moisture beads up from the cracks in the bark only to freeze in the chill. The trees whisper amongst themselves. After that, they settle and offer no more resistance.


In reply, Gabe stops experimenting on them.


Brendon smiles because he knew Gabe was more attuned to the natural world. The oceans never scared him during his travels. People were always the unknown quantity.


A few hours after dawn on the fifth day, Brendon pauses when the sound of laughter scampers off in the distance. Everyone freezes. The goblin laughs again.


Frank sets his pack on the ground, silently. They set traps as the sun was rising and have been waiting to see if their snares would bring them good fortune. There’s the violent sound of a trap triggering followed by the laughter twisting into a shrill, haunting wail that has Brendon clapping hands over his ears.


It seems their plan is finally bearing fruit. Now, all they have to do is wait for the goblin to draw out his fellow fiends. It should be easier to pinpoint their hovel or burrow then.


The goblin continues to wail. Pete sniffs the air before moving to hide behind a birch. There are more goblins on their way. Brendon can hear their answering wails.


Everything is going as planned, until he notices how pale Gabe’s face has gone. Brendon snags Frank’s sleeve and looks over at Gabe again. His fingers are clenched tightly around his duffel handle, knuckles as ashen white as his face.


Frank whispers something to Ray before dropping back with Brendon toward Gabe, who has somehow lagged behind without even Brendon realizing it. Gabe doesn’t respond when Brendon says his name. Many times.


After a few pokes and prods to Gabe’s chest without any response, Frank catches Brendon’s wrist.


“Bren, be still for me, okay? I’ve seen this before. We need to stay calm and wait it out.”


Frank’s voice is slow and steady. There’s something sad lurking in the depths of his words; the same sorrow that crept up on him when Brendon asked about coming here in the first place. It reminds him of the years they’ve been separated. Of all the things he doesn’t know. Of every hurt and slight he couldn’t prevent.


Brendon hates the way he feels, as if he’s powerless to do anything. He tries to speak, to ask what Frank’s seen but the trapped goblin’s wail reaches an ear splitting volume before abruptly cutting out. Mournful calls screech from every direction, clawing up into the air, fighting with each other to be heard, the free goblins lamenting their fallen kin.


Gabe instantly drops his duffel and takes several steps backward. His back collides against the trunk of an adult juniper tree that shouldn’t even be in this forest to start with and he slides down the trunk, Brendon and Frank doing their best of catch him as he goes.


They end up at the base of the juniper, Gabe cradling his head between his hands while he mutters something Brendon has to strain to hear.


“Don’t listen to them. Don’t. Don’t. You can’t...”


Frank curses under his breath and Brendon closes his eyes for one second, and only one second. He doesn’t have time for more than that. He has an idea on what Gabe’s thinking about.


“Sirens.” His voice is small. Fragile. Frank nods.


The story about mermaids was just a cover. A way to pretend that something much scarier didn’t exist in the deep. The goblin’s wail must have triggered a memory or... something. Brendon doesn’t really know. He just doesn’t know.


Frank wraps his fingers around Gabe’s wrists and leaves them there. “Gabe, we’re not. We’re not listening, okay? We’re not even at sea. Can you take a deep breath for me?”


There’s the sound of a shuddering breath being taken in and slowly released. Brendon places a hand on Gabe’s thigh as lightly as he can. Nothing more than a reminder.


I’m right here, you’re not alone. Never alone.


“That’s good. Just keep breathing and listening to my voice. We’re on land, do you remember?”


Brendon can’t fathom what Frank went through to teach himself this. He’s never been this calm, this centering. It’s like walking into a room you thought was once white -barren- only to blink and notice the walls are covered in flowers, splashed with colors you never knew existed.


Gabe nods slowly and Frank continues speaking in that oddly comforting, steady voice.


“That’s good. We’re safe and everything is fine. Do you think you can come back to us now?”


It takes a few more minutes before Gabe looks at them. He’s clenching his jaw tightly. Frank stands and offers him a hand up. Gabe takes it with more force than he normally would.


He’s not happy.


Brendon stands and rests his head against Gabe’s arm. He can’t have Gabe blaming himself for something that isn’t his fault. No one should have to feel that way.


Not ever.


“We need to find the guys. Make sure the goblins didn’t swarm them while I fell apart.” Gabe’s voice is clipped and curt. It’s a spot on imitation of Frank’s usual bluster and bite.


“We can talk about it if you want?”


Gabe shakes his head at Brendon’s words. “No time. I’m fine. There’s nothing to talk about.”


Pete howls in the distance. Frank picks up his pack and staff without pressing the issue. For now, that is. Brendon knows he’ll ask Gabe to tell them what happened. But, that’ll come later. Either after they have the holly tree with them or they’re home, tucked away from the elements and all phantom threats.


Soon. Soon. Just not right this moment.


A second howl follows the first. Brendon adjusts his satchel strap. They’re so close to the end of this particular adventure. He can feel it. The same as he always has.


It’s like getting to the last few pages of a good book. Your soul aches knowing that the final word is soon approaching while your spirit yearns for that completion. It’s a need that must be fully realized.


Just because one journey has ended doesn’t mean another can’t form from the ashes of the old one. Brendon’s almost certain this is only the start of many more adventures to come, both in this realm and others, including the one they’ll soon call home together.


But that’s the future. First they have to see this through. He’s getting ahead of himself. Again.


When they find Pete and Ray, most of the goblins are dead. It’s extremely anticlimactic. By midday, all of the goblins have been disposed of. There’s a funeral pyre burning a few feet away from the opening of a small cave.


The holly tree is sheltered away from the greedy flames. Its leaves are wilted and browning around the edges but the spirit buried in the wood still beats strongly. If they can replant it in its proper home, it should be fine. There might be minor stunting of limb growth for a few years, but that’s to be expected.


The fae will be understanding.


Brendon stares at the red, rust-colored moss clinging to the rocks below him -the ones that surround the mouth of the cave- before shifting his eyes upward. He’s sitting above the cave entrance watching everyone. Gabe insisted on helping Pete pitch goblin bodies into the fire so they’re using fallen limbs to poke and prod the lifeless bodies toward the pyre.


Frank’s assisting Ray in constructing a makeshift sled of sorts. They’re using a few hazel branches and the spare coil of rope Frank keeps at the bottom of his canvas pack.


Brendon should be helping.


However, he finds he can’t. Well, he could but he’d only be in the way. His thoughts are a jumble and his feet would only follow the mental mire.


There’s so many paths from here on out that could be taken, not just the trail that’s peeking out from underneath a cluster of winter ferns. It’s a lot to take in. Brendon thought he knew what to expect. He thought he was prepared.


But.


What if he isn’t?


A branch over his head snaps and cracks causing a thin, elongated shadow to cut across the ground below as a bird alights on the edge of the limb. Lady Luck tilts her head downward until she’s looking at him upside down.


She clicks her beak twice before straightening. She then drops to Brendon’s head with barely a sound.


“You’re worrying needlessly again.”


Brendon inclines his head downward and raises his hand, open with his palm turned skyward. Lady Luck tumbles into his hand. She chirps at him sharply. She’s never enjoyed that particular move, but then, he’s never cared for her perching on his head.


A sharp nip to his pointer finger has him shaking his hand while Lady Luck moves to his knee. “The world continues to spin. It is time to go home, once more. You mustn’t dwell on endings. Look forward to the new beginning.”


Brendon lifts his chin from his chest and watches Gabe talk with Pete while Frank tugs on the rope to test its strength.


“I’m not dwelling.”


His words earn him a peck to his knee as Lady Luck gives him a hard stare. She doesn’t say anything. Brendon’s not dwelling. He’s not.


It’s just.


He doesn’t know what he was expecting. Maybe, he’s still wound up in how easily the goblins were dealt with. Maybe, he was expecting more to happen. Maybe, less. The confusion and uncertainty keep his thoughts tied up in ragged knots that he’s having trouble plucking apart.


There’s also the worry that Frank or Gabe will decide to stay. It’s not a secret that Pete will be doing so. The guys work well with Pete and Ray. If they wished to stick around, they’d be welcomed with open arms.


Brendon would stay, as well. Only the Realm of Magic isn’t his home anymore. The city is. He likes it there.


Perhaps it is too much asking them to give this world up for another.


Lady Luck ruffles her feathers. Once, twice, thrice and then she’s flying off. Brendon sighs and lets his weight pitch him from his perch over the lip of the cave. His landing isn’t as graceful as Frank’s usually are.


Gabe pauses mid-sentence to clap. Frank stands and dusts dirt from his pant legs.


“I’m not carrying you out of here if you break something.”


Which is a blatant lie. Frank would.


Gabe laughs. “That’s because you’re a gnome princess, short stack. Your kingdom would string us up by our laces if we crushed you.”


Frank glares at him and Brendon giggles. He’s selfish for wanting this in his life, forever. But he can’t help it. He needs Frank and Gabe just as surely as the plants need rainfall to live.


“Gabe, you’ll carry me, then, right?” Brendon smiles brightly and tilts his head trying for innocence. He’s sure he looks nothing of the sort but that’s half the fun.


Frank shakes his head and goes back to testing the ropes while Ray keeps a steady hold of the longest hazel branch. Pete drops to sit on the edge of an old stump. He’s grinning like a fool.


Brendon doesn’t get a chance to ask him why he’s grinning so widely because arms snake around his waist and Gabe lifts him off the ground.


Brendon laughs and wraps his fingers around Gabe’s wrists. “I didn’t mean right now.”


Gabe shrugs and Brendon feels himself jostle with the motion. “You didn’t specify.”


It’s good to know that whatever happened out at sea didn’t damage Gabe completely. That he’s still capable of mischief.


Pete barks out a laugh that’s shot through with amusement. Even Ray’s smiling.


Brendon shakes his head and kicks his feets against Gabe’s shins as lightly as possible.


“You can put me down.”


And Gabe does. Only he’s been moving toward Frank ever since he picked Brendon up so when he lets go, Frank’s right there to catch Brendon as he stumbles.


“You knew he was going to do that.”


Frank’s right. Brendon knew but it’s not as if he could pass up an opportunity like that.


He spins and loops his arms around Gabe’s neck. “Thank you, but I meant if I couldn’t walk.”


Gabe kisses him. It’s nothing drastic or intense. Brendon doesn’t think he’s ready for that. Everything between the three of them is still young. Not fragile, but not yet as strong as it will be one day.


Frank scoffs at something Ray says that Brendon misses. Gabe breaks the kiss and Brendon drops his arms so he can turn and tug Frank closer.


“You’re missing the fun, princess.” Is all he can think to say against Frank’s lips before he kisses him. Frank glares but doesn’t push Brendon away.


When the kiss ends he scratches his nails down the back of Brendon’s neck. “Gabe’s right, you’re an imp, Brendon.” His words aren’t malicious. And it’s not like Brendon minds being called that.


He’s fine with it.


Gabe laughs again and drags Frank into a kiss that has Brendon staring transfixed.


The sound of tree limbs scraping against loose earth, sadly, breaks the moment. Ray and Pete have, apparently, moved the holly to her sled.


It’s time to go.


Brendon almost forgot: they’re not quite finished with this journey.


But soon, they will be and he can finally stop worrying about maybes or perhaps. Until then, it’s time to move again.


Ray knows his way to his village from here. They can make it there by midday tomorrow if they leave now and travel through the night. They’re all tired. Brendon’s sure they’ll stop frequently enough to rest, though. Of course, they could camp here for the night. Set out before dawn. However, with the village near and the holly so close to home, no one wants to dally.


As they walk, their conversations are light, airy and bright. Ray talks about his home. Brendon has to admit, the picture Ray paints with his words is inviting. It’s almost enticing.


But.


No.


Brendon has a cozy, little cottage in a city he adores. If the guys stay, he will too.That’s just how it is.


He hopes they won’t. That the past seven years have shown them more than enough of this realm. That they’ll want change.


As it is, Gabe’s already agreed. However, sometimes, decisions change. And that’s where Brendon finds his worry resting, in that shadowy dip dug into the line.


“I swear, I didn’t expect a brownie to follow Mikey home. A unicorn, maybe but-” Pete’s voice is excited. He’s already thinking of tomorrow’s promise.


Brendon finds himself hoping that Mikey and Gerard will be forgiving. He thinks they might for they sound like they’re good people. Pete’s been through enough as it is and he was only trying to protect his own. He deserves to have a safe harbor to forever shore upon.


Lady Luck coasts by on a stiff breeze and her chipping causes Pete to cut his story short. Night is slowly devouring the day. Dusk has finally crept into the forest casting a gloom across the trees and the ground.


Frank lights his lantern. The flicker of the flame banishes some of the encroaching darkness. The shadows slink back to hide away from the brightness.


In the distance, Brendon can make out a break in the trees. He think’s they’re closer to the treeline than even Ray realizes.


Lady Luck lands on Brendon’s forearm. Her head tilts to the left and he follows her line of sight until he notices an ancient oak almost hidden behind a cluster of hazels. The oak has to be almost as old as the one back home.


Pete goes back to his tale. Ray asks him a question about something. Brendon can hear the sound of the sled scraping across the ground. It’s Pete’s turn to pull the holly so Ray’s walking beside him as they talk.


Brendon should be the next person in rotation. Should be. But there’s an oak tree not too far away and he’s tired. Christmas Eve isn’t even for a few more days. Yet, Brendon yearns for his bed. For the workbench in the back room of his shop.


He misses Greta and Spencer. He hasn’t written to them nearly as much as he should have. There are so many things he wants to tell them.


He also wants to properly introduce Spencer to Frank and Gabe. And vice versa. He thinks they’ll get along.


“Bren, what is it?” Frank’s voice is nearly a whisper at his side.


Brendon shakes his head. They should go to the village. He should give Frank and Gabe a chance to decide for themselves what they want. Where they want to live.


“Nothing.”


In front of them, Pete and Ray stop. Brendon vaguely registers the sound of the hazel branch hitting the ground gently.


“Is everything okay?” Ray’s words are shot through with minor worry.


Gabe waves him off. “We’re fine. Just need a moment to rest.”


Lady Luck walks down to the back of his hand. She looks from him to Frank then to Gabe before speaking.


“It’s a doorway home.”


Brendon stares at Lady Luck. He’s not happy with her. She’s pressed her hand much too far this time.


“There’s an oak up ahead. He might let us through. It’s not noon, but if I ask nicely enough he might let us go home. I mean, we don’t have to, I’m sure they’ll be another oak somewhere else. We could even stay in the village if you don’t want to leave...”


Gabe places a hand under Brendon’s chin and turns his head. “Home sounds like a good idea, I’m exhausted. What do you say, Frankie? Continue onward or leave the heavy lifting to someone else?”


Frank links his fingers with Brendon’s. “Home does sound better than manual labor.”


His voice goes from low and private to loud and blunt when he twists to catch Ray and Pete’s attention.


“We’re going to cut and run, okay? There’s chores to do, no doubt.”


Gabe chuckles and smacks Frank on the back of the head. “Be careful or Brendon will find something for us to do when we get back. But, seriously, is it fine if we leave? We’ll come back and visit.”


Frank leans behind Brendon and flicks Gabe on the arm.


Ray shrugs. He doesn’t seem very heartbroken over having to transport the holly with less people to help. Pete is less blaise over the matter.


“Manual labor isn’t your thing. It’s completely fine. We can handle dragging a tree for a few more hours.” His words are deceptive, however, his body language is not. He’s unhappy.


Pete knew they weren’t going to stay. Brendon’s talked about home before. He just didn’t think they’d be leaving so soon.


Brendon feels bad about that. Maybe they shouldn’t leave so hastily.


Gabe sets his duffel down and unzips a compartment. He pulls out his journal and hands it to Pete. “Any pen will do. You don’t need an enchanted one. Same with the ink. Just flip to a clean page and address the letter to Brendon. When you’re done. Close the cover. You’ll know when we reply.”


Frank arches an eyebrow before gently dropping Brendon’s hand. He pulls his pack from his shoulder and rummages in a side pocket until he comes up with his own journal. He hands the leather bound book to Ray.


“The instructions are the same. If you need us. Let us know.”


Brendon thinks he will never cease to be surprised by life and everything that happens. The journals should work for Pete and Ray the same way they did for Frank and Gabe.


Pete tries to hand Gabe’s journal back. Brendon carefully pushes Pete’s hands back toward his chest. “Take it. I can always enchant new ones.”


At the thought of enchantments, Brendon remembers the gifts at the bottom of his satchel. He planned to give them to Gabe and Frank in the bubble because he didn’t know if they’d want to go their separate ways after their gathering. He couldn’t have them leave without one last gift. One final piece of his magic to protect them from the things he never could.


It doesn’t take much effort to fish the small bundles out. Afterwards, Brendon leans over and rests his head against Gabe’s chest, a silent request for this to be okay. Normally, he wouldn’t give something as important as this away. However, he’s not going home alone. He can shield Frank and Gabe without the aid of enchanted items now. Whereas he doesn’t have the same luxury with Pete and Ray.


Gabe whispers a go ahead. We don’t need anything else. against Brendon’s hair.


“It would be impolite not to give them gifts.” Frank’s words are moist against Brendon’s neck.


When they break apart, Brendon hands the smaller parcel to Ray. It’s a pair of gloves enchanted to handle the harsh conditions of the salty ocean breezes. They were going to replace the old, worn pair Gabe has now. Brendon can enchant another set for Gabe when he knows what new conditions to take into account.


The gloves should hold up for a woodcutter. The specifications aren’t exactly the same, but they’re warm, protecting, and durable. Brendon can’t think of anyone else who could use them more.


“Don’t open it until Christmas. They should fit. Thank you for saving my life.”


Brendon wishes he could do more than a pair of enchanted gloves. Ray deserves more than a second-hand present. Which just means that next year, he’ll have to come up with something better.


Ray claps him on the back and calls him a good friend before walking back to the holly after nodding at Frank and Gabe, his way of saying goodbye.


It takes a minute for Pete to take his own gift. It’s a cloak that keeps the elements at bay. It’s also good for repelling arrows if the need should arise. Brendon enchanted the cloak so it could be worn under Frank’s military coat without being obtrusive.


“I don’t know if this will be helpful or not. I think it will.” Brendon quirks the corner of his mouth into a half smile as he tries to take a few steps back.


He doesn’t make it far. Pete reaches out and drags him into a hug. A whispered thank you presses into his shoulder before vanishing when Pete pulls back.


Brendon does his best to smile wider. His chest feels full of even more emotions. He’s tired. He wants to go home. However, he’s found friendship in a place he wasn’t expecting. Leaving is never easy when that happens.


It takes effort to back away from Pete. He nods at the items in Pete’s hands. “They’re our gifts to you. We’ll visit. I promise.”


Brendon tries to never ever promise things he can not keep. It’s cruel to give your word only to break the vow when it’s inconvenient. He’s always done his best to keep his promises and he plans to continue that tradition for as long as he can.


Frank rests his hand on the back of Brendon’s collar and Gabe does the same.


“Take care, and try to not be an idiot.” Frank’s words are more for Pete than Ray but Ray nods in agreement.


Gabe sighs. He refrains from saying anything, though, it’s a losing battle. Frank will always speak his mind. That will never change.


Lady Luck chirps. Brendon runs a fingertip from her crest to her tail. In an instant, she’s his hat once more. There’s no telling where in the forest back home this oak will send them. Brendon’s hoping he can ask nicely enough that they’ll crawl out of the roots of the oak he’s accustomed to. But if not, he wants to be prepared, no matter how unlikely it is for other people to be around at this hour.


“Lets go home, yeah?” Gabe smiles at them before nudging Brendon forward.


The hazels let them pass without any hassle. Brendon whispers a word of thanks to them.


When they get to the oak, he pauses. “We could stay. Here. In this realm, if you want.”


Brendon taps his fingers across the brim of his hat nervously. This is something he should have said hours ago. Perhaps even days before that.


Gabe shakes his head. “You said we have a room. I’m curious to see what it looks like.”


Frank nudges his arm and refrains from mentioning the fact that he and Gabe will, most likely, be sharing Brendon’s room with him instead of living in the spare. “Please tell me the curtains aren’t sheer and a monstrous shade of purple.”


Brendon laughs and places his hat on his head. He takes three steps forward and presses his palm against the cold bark.


“Brother Oak, who will one day be a Father of all Doorways, I ask thee a favor. We wish safe passage home. There is a Father oak on the other side I praise. If you could bring us to him, what praises are not his shall be yours, gladly.”


Above Brendon’s head, a rectangular slice of pure dark cuts into the oak. Frank extinguishes his lantern, stows it away, and slides his staff into the strap he added to his canvas pack for carrying the thing when he had to climb cliffs or trees.


“Looks like we’re climbing.”


Gabe goes to reach for a branch and the limb snakes down to form a handhold. Others follow downward, forming a wooden rigging, creaking in the breeze. Gabe climbs up deftly, mocking Frank for his gracelessness while Frank heckles Gabe for no reason. Brendon grabs the end of a branch and smiles to himself.


They’re going home.


Together.


One journey ending. Another waiting in the wings to begin.


Tomorrow will be a brand new day. A new adventure to be had. However, that day isn’t here, yet. He mustn’t get too far ahead of himself. It will come when it comes, and not a moment sooner.


Brendon climbs and doesn’t think about the dawn. They can do that when they make it home.


Soon, but not quite yet.

Date: 2012-12-31 05:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bootson.livejournal.com
OH MY GOD. THANK YOU! This is like all of my favorite things wrapped up nicely in one place! I am nearly incoherent with flail! I swear I could write you a freaking BOOK of praise for this!!!! This is amazing, oh my god.

Okay, coherent points. A fairy tale! Brendon/Frank/Gabe! I was seriously expecting Frank /Mikey so this is SUCH A HAPPY SURPRISE! The background pairings are PERFECT. And the enchanted journals (I didn't even mention that anywhere, but it's one of my favorite concepts ever since I lived in HP fandom/RPGs a million years ago). And So many wolves this year! It's awesome!

Frank and Gabe taunting each other! I can't even cope with how much I love that! All the interactions and the way they were apart for the majority of seven years and things changed but they're still them.... ugh, I love it. The scene with Gabe and the sirens flashback was wonderful! Gabe is apparently my very favorite now so I'm a flaily mess that that was him.

Tl;dr version: Okay I'm going to stop there because there were way too many little things that I loved! You, whoever wrote this, are absolutely my favorite person! :) thank you for being so awesome!


Date: 2013-01-07 07:39 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dr-jasley.livejournal.com
soooooo, surprise!!!!!!!!!!

I'm super freaking happy you loved this.

<3

Date: 2013-01-02 04:08 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dapatty.livejournal.com
This was COMPLETELY and TOTALLY and EPICALLY wonderful. I am without words and made of CLAPPY HANDS about it. ♥ ♥ ♥

Date: 2013-01-07 07:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dr-jasley.livejournal.com
Thank you for reading and commenting. I honestly didn't think anyone beside bootson would read this monster of a story.

♥ ♥ ♥

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