We Shine Brightly (1/3): gift for [livejournal.com profile] bootson

Dec. 30th, 2012 10:51 pm
[identity profile] stuffitmod.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] bandomstuffsit
Title: We Shine Brightly
Author: [livejournal.com profile] dr_jasley
Pairing(s): Brendon/Frank/Gabe, background: Pete/Gerard, Pete/Mikey, Greta/Spencer
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: violence, polyamory(triad and V relationships), PTSD(one scene), magic, supernatural elements, angst, vague steampunkness, past occurrences of: conscription, indentured service, and ostracization.
Word count: 23.5k
Summary: Adventures are not meant to be had alone. They’re built around solid friendships and the promise of forging new ones. So, it’s no wonder that Brendon’s gone back home to find the paths he didn’t get to walk with Frank and Gabe when their worlds fell apart seven years ago. Their threads have woven together again and a new journey is about to begin. Brendon’s not sure what to expect, but he’s not alone and that’s more than enough to keep his spirits lifted.

Or, conversely, a winter fairy tale about friendship, love, and never giving up.


In the distance, the city clock begins to chime the hour. Brendon adjusts the satchel strap slung over his left shoulder as he rounds a corner briskly enough that his long coat billows behind him. He almost loses his hat but is able to snatch the flighty thing back before it decides to take a vacation with a strong gust of wind.


Brendon loves his brown and gray hat with its red trimming. It’s important to him, but he doesn’t have time to chase after it; not today.


There’s no time to slow down.


No time to stop for a breather.


He needs to clear the city gate by the twelfth chime. If he doesn’t....


Well, there’s no point in thinking about that. He’s going to make it. If he’s lucky, he’ll clear the gate by the ninth chime.


The city clock chimes for the fifth time, and Brendon slows just long enough to draw a deep breath before sprinting. The gate’s right ahead of him and the day guard’s taking a nap against the stone wall to his right.


It’s noon and the bustle is in the center of the city, not out here. There’s nothing but trees and a heavily-trodden path on the other side of the gate. It’s peaceful here.


Tame.


Boring.


Slipping through the gate happens in the breath between chimes eight and nine. It doesn’t take much for the lock to snick open -a quick flick of the wrist followed by a slight, phantom push- the gate cracking wide enough for Brendon to dart out and toward the treeline. The ironwork is used to his magic by now so the only noise that follows in his wake is his own labored breathing and the slap of worn shoe soles over cobblestones as the gate snicks closed behind him.


Brendon’s as consistent as the clockwork tower sitting in the center of the city.


Every six months he makes this journey into the forest. The first few years, he wasn’t alone. Greta, and later, Spencer would join him part of the way. But Spencer will never understand why this pilgrimage is so important while Greta knows far too well. She just doesn’t need to travel through, anymore.


She’s found a home in the city. With Spencer. They fit together.


Brendon doesn’t begrudge their happiness. He would never do that to Greta. She supported him when few others would.


They wandered into the city almost seven years ago as a pair of bedraggled orphans of fortune and were taken in by the warm embrace of the non-magical people there.


Meeting Spencer followed shortly after that. He was -and still is- a bright flicker of light in the gloom of night.


Brendon is proud to call him a friend. Proud to call him brother. Greta isn’t blood, but she will forever be Brendon’s sister in all the ways that matter. Spencer’s binding to her only brings him into their family circle under more permanent circumstances.


But that does mean Brendon takes this journey alone now. Which is okay because there’s no harm nor is there any foul. It’s not as if he’ll be alone when he makes it to where he’s going.


Outside of the city, the path in front of him is deserted and the air is crisp, biting. Brendon tugs his coat closer where it’s buttoned at his chest, taking a few deep breaths before falling into another sprint. He has, maybe, two minutes left if he wishes to make it to the Realm of Magic safely.


Noon is the universal time for celebrating with others the exuberance of life and all the things learned during the past year. The compass needle forever stuck pointing south. It’s when the door between realms is the easiest to open.


Brendon could, hypothetically, slip through at any time he pleases. His magic is strong enough for that. However, doing so would run a higher risk of getting him noticed in ways he’d rather not be exposed. He did leave the realm, after all. Being dragged back for all eternity is not a wish he ever wants granted.


Sunlight filters through the barren tree limbs and he has to squint to keep the glare from blinding him. To the left of the path is a small gap between bramble bushes. Brendon pushes through the mess of limbs as gently as possible before bolting for the old oak he, Greta, and Spencer sometime picnic under once he’s past the last prickly scrape of bramble.


The oak is ancient. A king standing in the center of his court. Brendon almost trips over a root when he’s close to the massive trunk but rights himself before he topples to the cold, winter-hardened ground.


His hat tries, once again, to travel without him and Brendon caresses the brim with his fingertips, asking for patience. Soon, soon, she can fly free again.


One step.


Two.


Three.


And Brendon carefully presses his free palm against the chilled bark of Father Oak’s trunk. People of this realm can not feel His magic. They can not even begin to fathom His importance.


On good days, Brendon is glad of this. It means his own magic -Greta’s magic- is hidden from view. Brendon left after the denouncement of his name once and would hate to have to pack up again. For all that he loves magic and the realm he was borne into, he has come to see the city as his true home.


The bustle of humanity filled with smiles, happy shouts, and the warmth of acceptance.


In the city, Brendon can create to his heart’s content; little crank-powered train engines, tin soldiers that stiffly march onward at the twist of a brass key, colorfully-painted ballerinas who dance to music when rich, wooden jewelry box lids are lifted. No one frowns at him for his gift of craftsmanship nor do they disapprove of his cheerful singing of the daily praises that should be whispered solemnly when darkness falls and not at dawn for all to hear.


Three years ago, the toymaker he apprenticed under bequeathed the shop -and the tiny cottage not far from the line of downtown shops- to him. Brendon makes toys for the city and, in return, the city accepts him as one of its own. Greta visits the shop with baked goods for the front counter twice a week and Spencer keeps the account ledger with all of its numbers and confusing figures.


It’s a comfortable life. A good life. Brendon has a family again. He gets to do something he loves. But he’s lonely. Of course, there have been offers of marriage, however, none of those women or men were a right fit.


So single he stays.


This isn’t why he comes to Father Oak, though. No. He comes here because sometimes, when you leave a place, there are things -people- you lose that hurt too much to give up completely.


Greta was never the only supporting friend Brendon had.


When he was fifteen, and reckless in a way he rarely is anymore -rarely has a chance to be, now- he made friends with a runaway and an orphan. The three of them became the very best of companions.


Many adventures were had. A bond was formed. They made plans to travel the realm together. Just the three of them and whatever skills they could pick up on a whim.


It was a dream that was never to be realized.


When the next spring bloomed into fullness, Brendon’s parents offered him up as a tithe to a noble household with ties to a neighboring kingdom. He was to apprentice under a monk to be a clergyman for the noble family.


His magic was strong and steady, he would make a good cleric. However, all secular ties were to be severed.


It was a life Brendon didn’t want. He thought about running away. In fact, he tried on a still night only to be caught by one of his sisters when he was climbing the stone wall that separated their property from the Salpeter’s.


After that night, nothing was ever the same. Brendon was put under house arrest until his seventeenth birthday when he would be shipped off to learn a trade he didn’t care for. The only way out was to say no. He had the right to decline the offer, however, to do so would garner consequences Brendon was unsure he wanted to carry across his shoulders.


So he kept his silence and lived with his punishment. He was not allowed visitors. Frank and Gabe were chased away by the stable hands if they were found near the property.


Greta would sneak into his room and they’d weave magic together. She’d spin yarns of a world outside of the realm. Of places where magic wasn’t coveted. Lands where the four of them could run to. A new home where they could make themselves anew.


She ferried countless letters between Brendon and his friends until he had the spell right for messages which could be sent without needing a courier. Without Greta, Brendon would have drowned. She was even there to steady him when Frank and Gabe were caught for their countless acts of thievery.


That day, Lady Luck flew through his open window and perched on the corner of his desk, shaking her brown, gray, and red feathers briskly, as if she’d flown for hours without stopping, with the terrible news. Frank was conscripted into the militia while Gabe was indentured to a merchant vessel. In seven years time, both would be free men once more, with skills and pride to employ them.


Their sentences were more humane than what the laws warranted. But seven years wasn’t something Brendon had. If his magic settled when he became a cleric, he’d be trapped with no way out.


A decision had to be made. What was more important: pleasing his parents or doing what felt right. It wasn’t really something Brendon had to mull over when it came down to eventually seeing Frank and Gabe again.


Instead of enjoying the weeks leading up to Christmas, Brendon and Greta worked on crafting even more magical items when Greta could get away from her own hectic home life. Her parents wanted her to marry a Duke she didn’t care for and Brendon felt bad for being the worst friend to ever exist.


On the nights Greta couldn’t sneak over, Brendon would write letters to Frank and Gabe. Replies were sporadic, at best. Brendon constantly worried that the enchanted journals Greta slipped to them before their departure would be stolen or lost.


It was a terrible period of time to live through while the rest of his family were happy and trying to draw him out of his melancholy stupor. They thought Brendon was down because he was thinking about his future in an unkind light. Surely, he knew what good fortunes were being laid at his feet, eager for the taking.


Christmas Day was dreadful. Brendon spent the whole day in a daze, worried that Lady Luck would have trouble finding her destinations. That her shrunken parcels were much too heavy for her frame. Songbirds were not meant to be couriers.


Greta slipped through his window that night. Neither of them could sleep so they passed the hours whispering about what the future would hold for them when they left for something better.


Three days later, Brendon went to his parents. He told them he didn’t want to be a clergyman. His mother cried while his father was as calm as a stone set in the center of a raging river.


He had his surname stripped from him, his familiar trinkets taken. All Brendon was left with were the clothes on his back, his magic, and the things he’d made for himself.


Greta met him at the edge of the property. They left together. Two forsaken souls set adrift by their own decisions.


Brendon rests his forehead against Father Oak and closes his eyes. His hat tugs against his fingers. Lady Luck followed him out of the realm and Brendon hates that he has to enchant her. However, he would die from guilt if she got hurt or captured for being a talking Cardinal instead of just a run-of-the-mill song bird.


Some birds are just not meant to be enslaved. She deserves to fly free. He’s tried sending her off before. Lady Luck, though, has other thoughts and she won’t leave his side. She’s as persistent as Greta. It’s why Brendon enchants her into a hat whenever he’s out and about the city, so she has a chance to see the world they live in when she’s not trapped inside the tiny cottage where they reside.


A cottage that forever surprises him when he remembers that it’s his. Brendon never dreamed of a future grand enough that he’d ever live anywhere other than a one-roomed flat over whatever shop he could sell his skills to for room and board.


It’s a cozy place to come home to. It is also why he’s running late today. He was tidying the spare room the best he could. Making it presentable for company. Not that Brendon’s sure he’ll have company when he journeys back home.


It’s just...


It’s been seven years.


Twice a year, he visits Frank and Gabe in the bubble he and Greta constructed before they left. It’s the only time the three of them can be together. Frank and Gabe getting leave to wander off into a forest or abandoned place for a few days without being needed.


Thankfully, that season has finally come to an end.


Brendon tries to steady his breathing. Today is a happy day. He just needs to not be here.


“Father Oak, Protector of Light, Doormaster of all Realms, I ask of you a favor once more. Let me pass from this land to the next. In offering, I give you this day’s praises and the next, gladly.”


Father Oak grants Brendon’s favor and the bark underneath his palm splits away from the rest of the trunk. A square doorway is formed and Brendon climbs down roots that form stairs downward into the dimness.


At the bottom of the stairs, a small window of pale light breaks through the gloom. Brendon crawls through it. When he comes out on the other side, he’s amongst the exposed, tangled roots of a different oak.


The forest on this side is darker, limbs weaving into and out of each other, blocking out much of the weak sunlight. The trees are more prosperous here because they’re less likely to be chopped down for resources. Only what is asked for is taken. There is respect for nature here. It is one of the few things he misses of the old world.


Lady Luck strains against his grip and Brendon throws his hat into the air. In an instant, a Cardinal flaps its wings in the place of where his hat once was. She flies three tight circles over his head before diving down to perch on his shoulder.


“You are nervous.” Lady Luck’s voice is chipper and high. She nudges her red crest against his neck before straightening.


Brendon chuckles as he unbuttons the top two buttons of his coat causing Lady Luck to take to the air once more. He always has trouble pulling out his locket when he wears this particular winter coat. The collar is genuinely restrictive, but it’s the warmest one he owns -a gift from Spencer and Greta a year after their wedding- and this winter has been unseasonably colder than usual.


“I am. What if too much has changed? Perhaps Gabe would wish to continue on as a sailor. They do travel most everywhere. Frank loathes soldiering, but he has skills as a military courier now.”


Brendon stares down at the round locket as it dangles from the silver chain he never takes off.


Lady Luck lands on a low hanging hazel branch, cocking her head to the right before chirping in a resolute manner. “All things change, yes, but you three are beyond that. You live for each other. If you ask them to stay with you, they will say yes.”


Brendon doesn’t know what to say. Time has turned him into a steady young man who now knows what he wants. He just doesn’t know how to go about making such a thing happen.


As always.


A first step must be taken if he wants to go anywhere.


There is no way Brendon knows which port Gabe was dropped off at or which outpost Frank was left at when his papers were finalized. Brendon doesn’t wish to spend more months alone without the rest of his makeshift family. His best bet is to do what he’s done for years.


Lady Luck ruffles her feathers and steps off of her branch. She settles onto Brendon’s shoulder again. As soon as she’s still, Brendon lets the weight of his locket settle in the center of his palm.


There are no pictures inside, but he opens it anyway.


Suddenly the chill of winter fades away like a bad dream being shed upon waking. A warm summer sun sets high up in the far corner of the bright, blue sky. There are trees in the distance, but where Brendon stands, there is nothing more than ankle-high grass. Ahead of him is a lake that stretches on for what looks like forever. Tall reeds line in the bank in clumps that rustle in the breeze that occasionally drifts by.


Lady Luck twitters happily before she takes to the air. She heads for the treeline. No doubt she’s in search of some sport.


Brendon lets his satchel slide from his shoulder, onto the grass. It’s safe here. Only those invited in can walk the shores of this bubble. Only those standing in the Realm of Magic can access the door in the first place. Since Greta doesn’t use her locket anymore, Brendon, Frank, and Gabe are the sole occupants of this tiny slice of infinity.


Time doesn’t move through the bubble. They could stay here for decades untouched by age or decay, war or strife.


However, time still exists and staying too long only heralds one’s disappearance. If Frank or Gabe were to stay before their seven years were up, more time would have been added to their sentences. Brendon’s thought about it before, but he’s never been a coward and hiding away in a bubble forever would surely count as such.


Life is for living. Sometimes it hurts. But without pain, no happiness would ever be worth the price.


The summer sun is warm. Even with a breeze rustling through the grass, sweat starts to soak into his shirt collar. He strips himself of his coat, letting the heavy fabric drop with a thump next to his satchel.


Beside the breeze there is no other movement. Worry starts to eat at Brendon’s thoughts. He shouldn’t be alone. Their meeting times have never deviated purposefully. To occupy his thoughts, he lets himself sink down to sit on his coat. It takes several moments to untie his shoelaces. The waxed nylon knotting itself when he’s too hasty with his fingers.


He takes off his thick winter socks and shoves them into his shoes when his feet are finally free. The lake looks inviting, and if he’s stuck waiting for the others then he’ll have to think of better ways to distract himself. Wading through the lake will buy him half an hour.


He stands and rolls up his pant legs. The lake isn’t very deep even if it is extremely wide. When they leave, he’d hate for his slacks to freeze from the winter chill.


Laughter snaps against the breeze as it ruffles through the reeds and Brendon straightens. He knows that laugh and the razor-sharp wit that usually follows in its wake. Of course, today would be a game day.


Pushing up the sleeves of his red button down, he makes a mad dash for the clump of reeds closest to him. Before he gets a chance to start poking through the reeds an inked hand reaches out and drags him forward. The force of the tug is unbalancing, and Brendon stumbles, sending both he and Frank tumbling into the lake.


The lake water is cool, but not shocking. Brendon laughs happily when Frank grumbles about being soaked.


“You couldn’t just sit and wait, you had to hide?” Brendon tries to keep his voice happy but his earlier worry creeps into his words.


“We were bored. Got here early. Decided against a swim.” Frank doesn’t sound pleased about being dragged into the lake, but what did he expect when he surprised Brendon?


He and Gabe both know how Brendon is when he isn’t focused.


“What did you expect, short stack, I told you not to grab him.” Gabe’s standing at the shoreline chuckling at Frank while Frank glares at him.


Brendon smiles up at Gabe and lifts his hand out of the water. When Gabe goes to pull him out of the lake, Brendon tugs him in.


Gabe isn’t nearly as irritated at being sopping wet as Frank is.


The three of them spend what seems like hours just tackling each other in the water and the muck. The sun never changes position. There’s no way of knowing for sure how many hours have passed.


Usually Brendon would wind his pocket watch for two days and when the time wound down, they’d part ways. However, today is different, so he shelves the thought for later.


Their laughter weaves together over their heads and it’s the lightest he’s felt in years. The worry is still there, gnawing on his ribs, now. But it’s easy to push the discomfort away.


Eventually, exhaustion finds them dragging their heavy limbs out of the water. Brendon flops down next to his coat and stares up at the sky. Frank almost sits on the lump, but notices in time to push the pile of thick fabric away with his foot.


Gabe drops to Brendon’s left. The silence is comfortable. Everything feels right in this moment.


Brendon watches a solitary cloud float across the sky. He knows how it feels, even if the poor, lonely cloud isn’t exactly real. They haven’t talked about the future. Brendon isn’t even sure if his friends are actually free of their chains yet.


“Are you...Did everything...Do I...Do I need to wind my pocket watch?” Brendon hates that his voice comes out weak and flighty. He can’t even put into words half of what he wants to ask.


Frank’s hand bumps into his side and Brendon turns to squint up at him when he shakes his head.


No.


Gabe leans backwards and lets his head rest against Brendon’s damp shoulder. “You don’t need to, Bren, not ever again.”


Brendon releases the breath he didn’t even realize he was holding. A genuine smile starts to slowly crawl its way across his lips.


Frank’s fingers nudge at his own before twining them together. The emotions swirling in Brendon’s chest are a combination of all the things he felt when he was younger mixed in with the much newer ones of love and contentment that are warm and comforting at this frozen moment in time.


It wasn’t until last year that he realized he felt for Gabe and Frank the same way Greta does for Spencer. It took Spencer asking why Brendon never seemed to entertain marriage prospects anymore last Christmas for Brendon to really stop and come to the right conclusions.


How could he fall for someone new when his heart was already someone else’s? Two someone elses, to be exact.


“I’m sorry that I couldn’t...that it’s been so long.” Brendon knows he shouldn’t be saying this. What happened in the past is the past and was a spiral of events that snowballed out of everyone’s control.


Frank’s fingers tighten their hold on Brendon’s while Gabe sits up and Brendon begrudgingly follows him upward.


“You shouldn’t apologize for things that you have no power over.” Frank’s words aren’t as biting as they could be.


He isn’t big on showing weakness. Military life does that to a person. It pars them down out of necessity.


Brendon likes to pretend that the bubble has done its best to protect Frank from the majority of this disillusionment. It’s startling to blink and fully notice just how much Frank has changed over the years. Ink covers much more of his skin than it once did and his touch is cooler than it once was.


He’s also lost weight, again.


But maybe that’s just how things should be. Everyone ages. Even Gabe’s older than he once was. His skin is darker than Brendon’s ever seen it and his hair is lighter in places from the sun and the stress.


What Brendon wouldn’t do to erase the past seven years from their lives. Give them the chance to start over.


It takes a moment to clear away the lump that’s flown into his throat to roost. When he does, Brendon trains his gaze on the lake instead of focusing on either Frank or Gabe. If he does that he isn’t sure what he might actually say or do.


“I know it isn’t much, but my spare room is yours, both of yours, if you want it. If not...that’s...it’s fine, but it’s there and I’ve missed you both.” Brendon doesn’t mean for his words to crack and split open at the end, but they do, regardless of his intentions.


He won’t utter the word love, not yet. It’s much too soon, and while he’s almost certain Gabe and Frank feel the same way if their expressions are to be read truefully, the time doesn’t feel right.


Frank lifts their conjoined hands and sets them on his knee. “Your neighbors will be outraged that you have such rude company staying with you, of course we want the room, but-” Frank breaks off and throws a look at Gabe that Brendon can’t decipher.


Gabe takes the cue and hooks his chin over Brendon’s shoulder. “What if we have one last adventure, first? Before going home.” Gabe’s voice is playful.


Brendon smiles without meaning to. His heart skips a few beats at Gabe’s mention of home as if he’s already accepted Brendon’s place as his own, their own.


For years, there have been nights where Brendon would dream of the sea breaking Gabe’s boisterous spirit only to wake up in a cold sweat not knowing what was truth and what was fiction, melancholia clinging to his skin, aching for something he couldn’t have.


It’s heartening knowing that maybe the bubble has also sheltered Gabe from the brunt of the sea’s brutality.


“Like when we were younger?” Brendon glances from Gabe to Frank while he speaks. When they both nod, Brendon echoes them and can’t keep in the happy, little giggle that escapes from his lips.


“Yes, please. I’ll have to write Greta a letter first, ask if she and Spencer will watch the shop for me.” Brendon yawns around his words.


He goes for his satchel and Frank stills him with a hand against his shoulder.


“We should rest first. When we wake, you can write to Greta. If you want, you could invite her. Spencer could watch your shop.”


Brendon hates that exhaustion creeps up on him like this. He can’t help that his magic stretches thin if he does anything strenuous while he’s in their little bubble world. Roughhousing in the lake for hours upon hours most certainly was something he shouldn’t have done, but it was fun.


Brendon doesn’t regret anything that’s happened today.


He grabs his winter coat and uses it as a pillow, curling up on his side and closing his eyes. Gabe settles behind him, Frank at his front. They’ve slept like this before. The three of them clinging to each other as if that alone could keep the outside world at bay for just a little longer.


That never worked in the past, but it’s a new day. A new beginning. Maybe things are finally changing for the better.


When he wakes, it’s to Lady Luck perched on the edge of his shoe, whistling the morning praises while Gabe hums a sea shanty under his breath. Brendon sits up and stretches his arms to the sky. Working out the kinks that settled into his muscles as he slept.


Gabe smiles at him before starting into another song, this one about too much rum and willing port town women. Brendon joins in when Gabe gets to the chorus. It’s a song Gabe taught him and Frank almost five years ago, when they met during the height of summer’s sweltering reign.


There’s a scoff to his right. Brendon tilts his head and sings louder when he meets Frank’s eyes. Frank shakes his head while he rifles through his canvas pack.


Like that, it’s easy for Brendon to notice just how populated their sleeping spot has become. Frank’s walking staff and long military coat are laying next to Brendon’s satchel. Gabe’s own coat and duffel are near Brendon’s left knee with a pair of long khakis draped across the center of the duffel. The hems are frayed and Gabe’s spent the hours before Brendon woke mending a tear in the thick fabric it seems.


“You know you adore this song, Frankie. It’s a tale of historic importance. What will the poor ladies of Tye think of your scoffing at their heritage?” Gabe smirks at Frank before picking up a small spool of thick, beige thread, throwing the spool into the air only to catch it on its downward plunge, over and over again.


Brendon giggles. “Think of them and their mothers, Frank. What would the old wives say if they could hear you defiling the honor of their daughters.”


Frank huffs out a disgruntled laugh. “I’m sure the women of Tye enjoy knowing their heritage is such. Old wives, Bren? Really? I’d imagine they’d harumph in disdain and throw rotten radishes at you for even insinuating their daughters as being less than pure, virtuous maidens.”


Brendon leans to his right and snags his satchel strap, dragging the leather bag closer. He hums a cadence Frank taught them a few years ago. It’s just as vulgar as the shanty Gabe was singing.


Gabe catches his spool of thread one last time before letting the wooden thing drop into a side pocket of his duffel. After the thread has vanished, he rolls up the pair of khakis and shoves them into another duffel compartment. “Gossipy, vile sea hags.”


Brendon and Frank nod their agreement in tandem.


“Vain, meddling window watchers.”


Brendon refrains from adding to the list of negatives. He could, but his mood isn’t stormy enough to warrant a reply. Instead, he fishes out a jar of apple jam he’s been saving for this special occasion. A tin of biscuits follow the jar. The jam is much too sweet to be eaten alone.


They don’t need food or water in their little bubble world. However, Brendon always brings something anyway. As an offering of comfort. Frank isn’t much for jams or marmalades, he much prefers cakes or pastries, but he enjoys a thin layer of the sticky substances slathered across a fresh, flakey biscuit.


Gabe would steal the whole jar away if given the chance.


It’s surprising that neither has raided Brendon’s satchel for the jar and the tin yet. There’s been many a time where he’s awoken to Gabe prodding him with his foot because his hands were occupied by a spoon and the jar. If it’s not Gabe, it’s Frank shaking his shoulder with one hand while the other holds a half-eaten biscuit.


Manners are not their forte.


It’s not something Brendon worries himself over. He would have followed his parents wishes if he wanted friends with proper manners and posh aloofness.


As the jam makes its rounds and the biscuits are divided amongst themselves, Brendon snags the two parcels of string-tied butcher’s paper that have been sitting at the bottom of his satchel since he packed them, days ago. Gabe doesn’t celebrate Christmas as Frank and Brendon do, but he humors Brendon’s need to bring a present each December that they meet.

While they eat, Brendon nibbles on his first biscuit and draws out his letter kit. Frank and Gabe bicker about cloud formations on either side of him. It’s like nothing has ever changed. It’s still the three of them on the eve of another journey.


The thrill is electric.


Brendon can’t wait to explore again, this time, farther away from his birth town. Soon. Soon, there will be a new adventure. But first, he needs to send word to Greta.


The journal is slim and weighs little when settled on his knee. The inkwell is heavier. To keep the ebony ink from spilling out and staining his brown slacks, Brendon sets the metal well in the grass before opening the thin box that holds his pen.


Every item is enchanted. Magic to keep them safe and secret. Magic to protect them from breakage or wear. Magic to bring them back to him if they are lost.


Brendon dips the pen tip into the ink after flipping to a clean page of parchment. He sets to penning his letter to Greta one-handed. If he doesn’t, at least, start to nibble on his own jam-covered biscuits, they will vanish off his knee.


It’s not something Brendon worries himself about. He doesn’t consider it rude if Gabe or Frank steal his portions. He has more at home. Greta keeps him stocked up on seasonal jams. It’s a wonder he hasn’t gone soft in the middle from an over-indulgence of sweets.


However, the apple jam is extra-specially delicious today, and Brendon doesn’t want to jinx this fresh start. Seven years spent away from the guys has made him superstitious in ways. He doesn’t want to condemn their lives to sorrow once more by not eating anything at all.


He already bears the weight of fault that first time. If he’d ran away without being caught, the three of them would have left together. Frank and Gabe wouldn’t have had to continue stealing to survive.


Guilt isn’t why Brendon’s here. It doesn’t tether him to anything. It’s just there, sitting in his chest with all the other emotions his soul harbors. He wishes he could pluck it out and let it drown in the lake. However, potions and poultices have never been his strong suit. He’s a creature of non-personal magic, unlike Gabe who, in another life, would have made a perfect herbalist.


Asking Gabe to help release the guilt would only bring the emotion to the surface and Brendon doesn’t want to ruin the companionable mood with his darkness.


“The sea’s surface is populated by boats full of liars and cheats. You’ve learned their nasty habits, Gabe. I don’t believe a clan of mermaids abducted you to make you their king. Giants, that, I could believe, but mermaids, never.”


Frank leans backwards and reaches behind Brendon to poke Gabe in the shoulder. Brendon doesn’t have to see the action to know it for what it is; Frank trying his hardest to ruffle Gabe’s non-existent feathers.


“The art of subterfuge escapes your blunt understanding of the world, short stack. Happened three years back, I’ll have you know, one night, after a storm wiped a third of the crew from the ship’s deck.” Gabe’s voice loses its boister about halfway through. The remainder of his words sink like heavy stones being dropped into the depths of an ocean.


Brendon looks up sharply, pulling his half-eaten biscuit away from his lips with a jerk that showers his journal in biscuit crumbs. He doesn’t pay the sticky crumbs much attention. Gabe doesn’t lie when he’s somber.


There’s truth buried in this story that Brendon has never heard. Gabe enjoys expounding on his exploits. If he hasn’t mentioned this particular yarn, as of yet, and it’s been three years, well, that’s a tell if he’s ever heard one.


Frank seems to catch the truth the same moment Brendon does because he doesn’t bait Gabe more. Brendon’s suddenly tangled up in imagining how bad that night must have been. It makes him shiver as icy fingers clutch at his heart.


The thought of losing Gabe is frightening. As frightening as the nightmares Brendon sometimes has of Frank being caught in the middle of a battle when he’s already been wounded. Weak and helpless.


Brendon takes a deep breath and closes his eyes for a second. When he reopens them, he watches Lady Luck launch herself upward, toward a parade of fluffy clouds high above their heads.


Once he thinks he has his words under his own control again, he opens his mouth. “Were they pretty? Mischievous? Mother always hated those storybook tales of the merfolk’s beauty. She thought they were vain, petty predators. I was always curious.”


Gabe smiles again and Brendon finds himself smiling at Gabe in return.


“When the moonlight broke through the clouds, it made their scales shimmer. I’ve never seen anything like it. They were right devils with their charm. They were giddy and playful.” Gabe twists his sad smile into an outright leery smirk at the end of his sentence, thoroughly burying the dark, awed tone he began with.


Brendon laughs without meaning to.


Frank snorts but he’s also smiling. “So you had to be just as charming, of course. Now I see why they’d want you as their king. Smarmy mythical creatures, the lot of them. Still, I think, you’re better suited for the giants of the north.”


Brendon goes back to penning his letter. Gabe’s ventured away from the dark place he was tumbling into and things are as they should be once more.


“The gnomes must be proud their princess represents their people with such sincerity.” Gabe’s quip is lost amongst the grass when Frank reaches behind Brendon and topples the both of them to the ground.


The action jostles Brendon and a giant splotch of ink streaks across the bottom of his letter, a garish flourish that follows after his signature. He sighs and closes his journal. His magic will only deliver the message when the cover is shut.


Once his journal is closed, he places it next to his inkwell and sets to putting away his supplies. His second biscuit stares up at him from where he set it on the cover of his journal. He could eat it, but he’s already jittery as it is. He always is on the eve of a new journey.


More sugar won’t do him any good.


It’s best to just tear the biscuit in half and offer the halves to a breathless Frank and Gabe when his shadow blocks out the sun shining on them as they tussle. It’s an effective way to end the good-natured bickering and attempts of one-upmanship.


Neither are good at wasting things.


Brendon’s maybe exploiting something he shouldn’t, however, this isn’t the first time. He doesn’t feel guilty or low for using this weakness against them. He’s the youngest of seven, some things will always be shamelessly exploited because they’re dirty tactics.


It’s a habit he’s bound to never shake.


Gabe’s the first to untangle his limbs from Frank’s. The apple jam really is that good.


Brendon laughs and Gabe ruffles his sleep-mussed hair with his free hand. “You’re a little imp today. Bribery will get you everywhere.”


Frank huffs a laugh against Brendon’s shoulder while he tries to stealthily snatch his half of the biscuit from Brendon’s hand. “He’s too tall to be an imp.”


The words are warm against Brendon’s neck before they vanish when Frank pulls away, victoriously biting into his successfully nabbed half of biscuit.


Brendon smiles. “I can’t help I’m taller than you.”


Frank shoves at him good-naturedly and goes back to polishing off the last of the biscuit.


Gabe’s lacing up his winter boots when Brendon remembers the parcels sitting in the grass. He goes to pass them out and Frank refuses to take his while Gabe hands his back not even a second after the butcher’s paper touches his fingertips.


Brendon opens his mouth to dispute the refusal only to have Frank talk over him. “It’s not Christmas yet. We have three weeks. I think we can wait until we’re home.”


Gabe nods after he stands and starts to dust blades of grass off his khakis. “We can have a proper holiday or something. Frank wouldn’t shut up about it earlier.”


Frank rolls his shoulders into a sharp shrug. “I seem to remember I wasn’t the person who brought the idea up in the first place.”


Brendon sits down next to his coat and tugs his shoes on. The laces are much more agreeable with him today. He idly listens to Frank and Gabe bicker in the background.


He’s repacking Frank and Gabe’s gifts when his fingers start to tingle slightly. It’s nothing startling. He’s used to it by now.


Greta’s replied to his message.


When they were enchanting the journals, Brendon was firmly against chimes or the sound of bells when a letter was received. He wanted a silent retrieval system that wouldn’t obstruct daily activities or work.


Lady Luck drifts downward from the sky to land on his elbow before climbing up to sit on his shoulder. She whistles at him in questioning as he’s opening his journal. “Are we leaving soon?”


Brendon nods while he reads. Greta’s reply is short but encouraging. She declines his offer to come adventuring with them, but promises she’ll watch the shop for him while he’s away. She teases that the shelves will be empty when he returns and Brendon runs fingers through his hair at the thought of having to restock with new creations and old favorites.


He loves his work, but sometimes the effort is exhausting.


Right now, there are plenty of babbles and oddities for the children to love. Greta’s ran the shop before, with and without Spencer’s help, she should be fine. Brendon smiles to himself before shutting the journal and placing it back into his satchel.


Frank and Gabe have jumped from bickering to discussing the finer qualities of distilled spirits. Neither seem to enjoy rum, though, Gabe has vast experience with the stuff. Both prefer whiskey or vodka to the liquor that comes from sugar cane.


Brendon has no preferences. A spirit is a spirit. It’s why all varieties of alcohol are called as such because when a plant dies -ferments- the spirit is released. It’s the same for all plants.


One of his older brothers taught him that when he was ten. Brendon’s parents were not pleased. They believed in the purity of the body. Alcohol only poisons the holy temple a person’s soul resides in, after all.


Lady Luck spreads her wings and flutters down to his satchel when he stands and begins the slow process of tugging on his winter coat. By the time he’s finished, Frank and Gabe are also standing in their cold weather garb.


Frank’s coat is dark and severe in its cut; all functionality, no personality. Gabe’s is lighter in color and made from water resistant materials, more of a slicker than a heavy winter coat civilians would wear. They both look their respective parts; the military man and the merchant sailor.


Brendon knows he sticks out like a sore thumb. His clothing screams comfort and sheltered at the top of its lungs. He hasn’t been through the same circumstances and it’s noticeable.


In the past, they meshed in unusual, yet, complementary ways. Now, however, he isn’t sure if that’s still the case. What if too much distance has flowed between them?


A sharp peck against his cheek pulls him out of his gloomy thoughts. Lady Luck’s crest brushes his neck and Brendon buttons up his coat, minus the top two buttons. He’s being ridiculous. If he were unfit to be around, neither Frank nor Gabe would be standing here. Their lockets function just as well as Brendon’s does.


They could have left while he slept or after the biscuits were consumed. The fact that they stayed should be proof enough. It’s something Brendon’s going to have to work on. This nagging thought that he doesn’t fit anymore is untrue, he’s just having trouble shaking the monster from his back.


Thankfully, he has the time to exorcise that particular thought.


Gabe nudges him before placing a calloused hand on his shoulder. “Time to go. Adventure awaits.”

Part 2
Part 3

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January 2013

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