Threads of Fate
Etain's boat was typically faerie-ish - which meant that the sails looked like they'd been constructed of gossamer, and the construction of the deck seemed almost too delicate to be real. It was large for a boat but small for a ship, and there were places to either stand and watch the scenery, sit and talk, or lie down and nap.
All in all, not too bad for a vehicle of sea transport.
And it looked nice in the moonlight, too.
"What do you think?" Etain asked them, modestly, as she led the other three on board.
"It looks like a strong wave would knock it over," Alex grumbled, glancing suspiciously around at the finely-constructed mast and sails. "Or even a not-so-strong wave."
"It's stronger than it appears." She seemed unbothered by that criticism. "And it looks awfully pretty, doesn't it? I designed it myself."
"It shows," Marc said wryly, and grinned.
She stuck her tongue out at him. "No comments from you, thank you."
"It's not that bad," Patrick said, diplomatically. Actually, he was a little afraid of actually heading out to sea in the thing, but he decided it was probably best to keep those kinds of comments to himself. "It'll get us from point A to point B." Supposedly.
"None of you have any appreciation for great art." Etain sighed, a little over-dramatically. "But, if we're all set, we should be off. Perhaps the usage will be more impressive than the appearance," she added a bit mischievously, walking across the deck to take hold of the wheel.
"Doubt it," Alex muttered, in an undertone.
He was proved wrong in the next second. Etain raised her head, hummed a strange little tune, and the boat's sails abruptly filled, even though Patrick could feel no wind. It left the deserted little cove where she had stored it, and moved smoothly away from the coastline, picking up speed as it went.
Patrick didn't even feel the lash of the wind as they moved.
It was a feeling much like the exhilaration that had caught him up while he was dancing. Like flying, almost - or floating on air. The boat carried them over the waves as if they were no obstacle, hardly rocking at all. The sensation of motion without the roughness to accompany it gave Patrick the feeling of weightlessness - like drifting around in space or sinking in a pool of water.
"This is wonderful, Etain!" Marc exclaimed, enthusiastically. He moved to stand beside the girl at the wheel, still smiling brilliantly.
Patrick took that as his cue, and walked over to hover near where the younger boy stood forlornly at the side of the craft, watching the scenery pass by. It felt strange to move around on the deck, feeling the speed of it under his feet. "You okay?"
Alex shrugged. "Been better," he admitted, a bit tensely, and then made some effort to relax, shoulders slumping. "It's no big thing, is it? I'm making a right arse of myself."
"I don't think so." Patrick leaned against the railing beside him, and shrugged. "And I'm an only child, so me saying that probably means a lot."
His lover stared down at the water for a moment - either sulking or thinking, he couldn't tell which. After a moment, though, he broke the silence with, "Do you think I'm selfish?"
How should he answer that one? Patrick took a moment to think. "Sometimes," he admitted, deciding to be honest. "But everyone is sometimes, so it's no big deal. It's called being human."
Apparently, that wasn't what Alex was looking for. "Is my selfishness making Marc unhappy, you think?"
It was the first time he'd heard the younger boy express this kind of doubt. Patrick blinked a bit. He hadn't really thought that Alex might even consider that kind of thing - he hadn't given any indication of it. "Not… completely unhappy."
"But unhappy enough." Alex did look up then, past him to where Marc and Etain stood by the wheel. His eyes were almost agonized. "He - He wants to be with her."
The misery in that statement made Patrick's heart clench. But there wasn't much he could say to refute it. "Yeah," he agreed, awkwardly.
That grey-eyed gaze turned back to him, almost pleading. "More than staying with me?"
How should I know? Patrick fought for an answer. He knew Alex was trusting him now to be honest, but he wasn't sure if anything he came up with would be right. "I don't know," was what he settled on, after a minute. Met with that sad, waiting gaze, though, he felt he had to add, "I don't think he knows either."
"Oh." Alex turned to watch the scenery again. His expression twisted into something stubborn after a moment. "I can't give up on him," he said, almost defensively. "I can't."
"I know." That much, he was sure of.
There was another moment of silence, and then Alex hesitantly reached out to clasp his hand over the one Patrick had resting on the railing. When he looked up, the younger boy was staring back at him, with a bit of a smile.
Patrick swallowed hard, suddenly nervous. "Alex?"
"I think I get it now, though," he got as an answer. Alex ducked his head a bit, almost shyly, and then met his eyes again, smile growing a bit. "Why Marc wants to stay with her so much."
It was more than he'd expected. As much as he'd hoped for. Patrick felt his heart pounding - couldn't stop staring. His voice caught in his throat, and he had to hope his expression said it all. The moment was somehow perfect.
He implied it. Maybe didn't say it, but it's there. It's there!
"I need to stop picking on Etain so much," Alex added, looking a bit rueful, and then abruptly grinned. "Marc will be happy about that, anyway."
"I think he's happy for you even without that," Patrick added, half-smiling. The moment had passed, but it left him feeling almost like his nerves were all on alert. But in a good way.
A very good way.
"Course he is, he's my brother." Alex turned again, and rested his chin on one hand, watching the view with a lot less of a melancholy expression than before. "He wants me to be happy just like I want him to be."
And that about sums it up, too. Patrick let a comfortable silence fall over them.
Too bad it didn't count that he was happy.
The trip lasted for some hours - Patrick didn't know if that was how long it usually took, or if the boat and the altered destination made it take shorter or longer that it should have been. After a moment, they started coming on toward land, and Marc left Etain to wander over to where his brother was still standing by the railing.
"Almost there," he said, leaning beside the dark-haired twin in almost the exact same pose - probably an unconscious gesture, since Patrick remembered him saying that he didn't want to be like Alex. "We should be able to find help on the island, too."
"Good to know." The younger twin turned to grin. "I'd hate to have to search the whole place trying to find someone who might even be sneaking up behind us."
Marc smiled at him. He looked somehow happier - Patrick suspected it was the opportunity to speak with Etain, but he knew better than to ask and make sure. "We do have a few things to protect us - they might even work."
"Yeah. Might." Alex snorted. "I'll believe it when I see it."
Something about the tentative conversation made Patrick think he should give them a few moments to themselves. He wandered over to stand beside Etain at the wheel instead, watching the water split in front of them as the boat coasted over the surface.
She glanced sideways at him with a bit of a smile. "Does it make you feel as if you're intruding, with those two?"
"Sometimes," Patrick confessed. "Not often." He shrugged, apologetically. "I'm an only child, so I don't really know what that kind of close sibling relationship is like, really."
"We have something in common, then." Etain stared out at the approaching landscape, eyes alert. It was a bit foggy out - or maybe that was just the whole mysterious element of the place. In any case, as they approached the island, there was a thin layer of mist surrounding them and the land. Dark shapes rose up with a dim veiling over them like something from a historical movie or a fantasy.
Patrick took his eyes from the sight - it got pretty addicting after a while - to look at her again. "You're not jealous of Alex, are you?"
"Not exactly." She smiled a bit, and he recognized Marc's sadness in her expression. "I envy him because he is able to spend time with Marc, yes, but I do not envy him for their relationship. Does that make sense to you?"
"Yeah, of course." He grinned back. Somehow, it was easy to make the admission to her - she'd already told him that they had something in common, and it wasn't as if she could talk to Alex about it anyway. That made her a good confidant. "I can understand that. I'm a little more - well - I mean, I worry that if it came down to it, I could never make Alex happy without Marc around to help."
"I see." Somehow, it did sound as if she saw, despite the distracted tone and the fact that her gaze remained riveted in front of them. "I do not share that worry with you, but I have no reassurance to offer, either. It is my impression that Marc is a stronger, more independent person than Alex - and although he may be sad often, it would not dominate his life if they were separated. Of Alex, I am not so sure."
It was more or less what Patrick had thought to himself, but hearing it still made a cold, hard lump settle in his stomach. He swallowed, and decided not to get into the conversation. "Maybe, yeah," he murmured instead, hoping she'd drop it.
"You would rather not talk about it." She smiled sympathetically. "I understand." Then her eyes lifted again, out to the side instead of toward the land. "Look there."
Patrick followed her gaze. Out in the water, something was moving - dark shapes, barely visible. He blinked rapidly. "What is that?"
"Look closer," she urged him. "Watch for a little while."
The dark shapes continued moving, sluggishly, and Patrick squinted, trying to get a better look at them. They didn't seem like ships or even sea animals - there was a shape to them that seemed more foreign than just something he'd never seen in the flesh before. They seemed to draw closer - not enough to think that they'd actually approach the boat, but close enough so that he could get a sense of what they might be.
Creatures, of some kind. Sleek and dark, the type that could be terrifying, but somehow, was not at the moment. Patrick saw dim outlines of large bodies with legs, feet, heads… he couldn't get a good idea of what they looked like, but it didn't matter. Just from watching them move, he got an impression of fierce joy - intense happiness in the movement and the water and everything to do with life. It was enough to take his breath away.
"Formorians," Etain said, very softly. Her gaze was fond, almost dreamy but in a different way than Marc's had been. "Sea creatures. None of our kind would ever harm these, no matter what the situation. They are the beloved children of the water realm."
Patrick continued to watch, even as the ship passed by and the dark shapes drew back into the mist and the water. There's a whole world of things, he thought to himself, almost dazed, that I'm never going to know about. It was depressing and inspiring all at once.
He didn't think he'd forget that sighting, no matter how many others followed it.
"We are here," the faerie princess beside him announced, voice still hushed.
It was harder to see where the land continued after it rose up from the shore, but the beach they were landing on was clear. It was not exactly a beach, either - there was no sand lining it, only an enclave of rocks with greenery joining it a bit higher. But it was an eerie, beautiful sight - especially with the outline of the mist hovering about.
Alex and Marc joined us near the front of the ship, as Etain smoothly brought it up close. Patrick had suspicions about the rocks and the depth of the water where they eventually came to a halt, but since the boat was already that weird, it didn't seem strange that it would have little or no problems with rocks.
"Wait by the water for a while longer," the girl told them, "after I am gone. And you will be sought out by others in order to provide you with direction."
As she turned to smile sadly at Marc, Patrick decided it would be a very good idea to go on ahead onto the rocks. Strangely - or maybe not - Alex followed him.
"What do you think she means by 'others'?" the older boy asked, in an attempt to take his mind away from the couple exchanging quiet words on the boat. The dark-haired twin's expression was that of someone who was about to eat something that didn't smell very nice. "More faeries?"
"Probably." Not surprisingly, Alex's answer was short. He stared resolutely forward, not glancing back at his brother. "What else would they be?"
Out of all the things they had done, Patrick felt that this was probably the thing that he could help with the least. "I don't know," he admitted, and risked setting a calming hand on his lover's shoulder. At least he could do that much, even if it didn't help. "I don't know much about what kind of legends you have."
"True enough." Alex relaxed a bit - enough to turn and smile at him wearily. "Does it feel to you like this is all hopeless? I should be glad - I'm so close to an answer." He hung his head, licked his lips, looked more confused than he should've been. "I have a feeling…"
Patrick wasn't sure what he could say to that - he'd thought all along that it was hopeless, anyway. "Don't think about it so much," he said, uselessly, and gave the younger boy's shoulder a squeeze.
Alex raised his head again, obviously forcing the determination back into his expression. "You're right," he agreed, and turned to face the boat again. "There's a ways to go yet."
Marc was coming toward them by then. The look on his face was resigned again - the happiness that Patrick remembered from the boat was shunted off to the side somehow. "Sorry to make you wait," he said, with that typical softness.
Patrick looked up toward the boat - Etain was back at the wheel, but her eyes were on the shore. Like someone taking a last look at something she doesn't expect to see again, he thought - but didn't say out loud.
It was probably better not to.
"Where are we supposed to expect this 'help' to come from, anyway?" Alex demanded - and Patrick looked back over his shoulder to the twins. "She wasn't very specific, was she?"
"She helped us as much as she could." Marc, he noticed, didn't look back to the boat. His eyes were very tired.
Patrick turned to look in his place - too late. Etain, and their transportation, had vanished.
"Well, what ever the case," Alex was saying behind him, even as he stared out into the mist. "The first thing we're going to have to do now is set up camp for the night. So." The younger boy gave Patrick a pointed look when he turned around again. "Let's get started."
It was nearly morning anyway, but Patrick took the opportunity to doze while he had the chance. The three of them had set up a watch system - two people slept while one kept an eye on the fire and watched for either enemies or their mysterious 'helpers'.
Things had been silent and tense while they worked, but it was more from the awareness of danger and the approach of the end of the quest than because of any discomfort they felt around each other.
Almost there. Then this will be settled, for good.
He wondered if Alex and Marc felt that same barely-coiled excitement that was churning around at the base of his stomach. Patrick wasn't sure if he was dreading the outcome, hoping for it, or if he was just afraid of what might happen. But the anticipation was inescapable.
For that reason, his sleep was light and not very restful. It was almost a relief when he was woken, less than an hour after he'd dropped off, by a strange, flickering light and the now-familiar sensation of a present otherness that marked the arrival of something new.
Patrick sat up, and looked around. Both Marc and Alex were gone already, but it wasn't hard to see where they'd wandered off to - they hadn't gone that far.
It was down around a small rocky cove near the water, a fairly easy climb from where they'd camped. And it was the same place the glow was coming from - several glows, really, since there seemed to be a gathering of what looked like really large fireflies but with a blue-greenish tinge to them.
Patrick made his way down, careful not to slip. As he got closer, he could make out the dark outline of Alex standing off the side as his brother crouched near the center of the cluster of little glowing beings.
"What are they?" he asked in an undertone, following the younger twin's example of keeping a slight distance. Some of the lights bobbed close to him, as if curious, but they never came too near. It was difficult to make out the shapes beneath the glowing.
"Manx Undines." Alex's voice was similarly subdued. "Water guardians. They're friendly most of the time, but very shy. Don't startle them."
Patrick was more than willing to go along with that. When he was younger, he used to like to watch fireflies on dark nights - he always remembered the sight of them as kind of magical. The Manx Undines were even more so, and somehow seeing the array of pretty blue dancing lights filled him with a certain nostalgic wonder.
The sun was just starting to come up, casting a pale light over the water and illuminating the island a little, by the time Marc finished. Most of the glowing creatures had vanished, and the rest flickered out as the blond stood, stretching carefully and turning to face his two companions. His face was oddly peaceful, a little smile curving his lips up.
"Well?" Alex asked, after a minute.
"Mm." Marc stumbled toward them, still looking kind of out of it. Not that that was really a shock. "We're going north."
"That's not very specific," Patrick commented, frowning.
Marc shrugged. "I got more specific directions. We just need to go north for now, though." He started toward the rocks again, seeming a little more steady. "Let's get going, then."
Alex and Patrick exchanged a glance, and then followed.
The Isle of Man - that version, anyway; Patrick couldn't be sure about the version back on his own plane of existence - seemed pretty wild. There was a good chunk of forest they had to pass through according to the directions Marc had been given, and his last supernatural encounter in a forest hadn't gone over well. Despite the fact that it was daylight by the time they made their way into it, and everything was more or less illuminated, Patrick still found himself casting nervous glances over his shoulder every so often.
God, I'm getting really paranoid, aren't I?
His only consolation was that Alex didn't seem much better.
"We don't have enough open space here," the younger boy complained, glancing around as if he expected horrors to come leaping out of the underbrush and attack them. "Something could sneak up on us without even really trying. Is there a lot more of this to go?"
"Be a bit more patient, will you, Alex?" Marc's answer was infuriatingly calm; he barely glanced over his shoulder to answer it at all, seeming more focussed on the path ahead of them. "In any case, she knows we're coming."
Patrick blinked. This was the first he'd heard of that. "How do you know?"
"The Undines told me." The blond shrugged, as if it wasn't that important. "She knew as soon as we came on-land - if she were going to attack, she'd have already done it, so you can relax, Alex."
"You couldn't tell me this before?" His brother looked understandably annoyed.
Marc smiled a bit, vaguely. "It didn't occur to me. You didn't ask, either."
"Well, if I'd known you found out something like that, I would've!"
"Can we not fight?" Patrick asked, plaintively. He could feel the beginnings of a headache building at his temples, and didn't want to give it the chance to really form. "If she knows we're coming, why doesn't she come out and meet us instead of making us look around for her?"
"We're the ones who want something." Marc shrugged. "This is how these things are done. She's waiting for us to come to her. Anyway, she's not active during the day, so we need to approach her some time tonight."
Alex seemed to get over his peevishness then, curiosity taking over. "Does she know what we're going to ask?"
"I don't think so." Marc frowned a bit. "The Undines didn't mention anything about it. I don't even know if they really knew what we were up to. They're not members of the Tuatha de Danann either, remember."
"Yeah," Alex agreed, and sighed, rolling his eyes upward as if in defeat. "That's a point in their favor, in my eyes."
Patrick had to agree with him there. It had seemed to him like all of the more interesting and non-threatening faeries were the ones not associated with Etain's father and his group. "Didn't you tell me once that solitary faeries were more dangerous?"
"I did." Alex made a slight face. "And it's true - they don't have the same sense of cooperation. We only seem to have come across the good ones on this trip - unless you count the Leansidhe. She's supposed to be pretty dangerous."
"I can imagine." The fact that she stole blood from people didn't make her sound all that appealing, that was for sure.
"Well, we're meeting her anyway," Marc reminded them, and silence fell afterward as if that statement were a pronouncement of doom.
Maybe it even was.