Threads of Fate
"What was it?"
They were the first words Patrick had felt capable of speaking since he'd been led back to the little grove where Marc had been waiting for them. He hadn't spoken or been spoken to after he'd been kissed - just helped up and directed onward, with a hand on his arm. It was hard even to think - the fear and the attraction mingled in his head, creating a confusing blend of feelings that made his head ache to hold it.
Alex paused in his efforts to create a thick cloud of smoke. He'd carefully partitioned the area so that the dense greyness drifted around them without cutting off their oxygen or clouding their vision. It involved several blankets that looked like they'd been drenched with water and some tricks with the wood he was steaming. Patrick's mind wasn't capable of following everything he was doing, so he didn't try.
"The Huntress," Alex said, after a moment, and sighed, going back to whatever he was playing with. "You won't hear about her in legends - she hasn't been around long enough to be properly recorded."
Patrick's mind turned that over a few times. "She was a faerie," he said flatly - not a question.
It would've seemed impossible - if he hadn't seen it with his own eyes. She had definitely been real - and definitely impossible. He couldn't deny her existence any more than he could call her something that belonged in his own world.
"She was," Marc agreed, sitting placidly by his brother, his voice calm. He no longer looked quite as vague as he had, but there was a definite detachment in the way he moved and spoke. "And looking for me."
"For you?" Patrick repeated, faintly. Somehow, he found, it was hard to be surprised.
"Marc!" Alex protested, glanced quickly at Patrick, and turned a bit red, lowering his gaze. Apparently he was thinking more about the kiss than the lady on the horse.
Not that it wasn't at the back of Patrick's thoughts too… but he was having trouble organizing his thoughts at all right then.
"He might as well know," Marc told him, still in that calm tone. "He's seen her now - he's become involved. At least let's tell him that much."
"Fine." The younger twin stabbed viciously at his mass of smoking logs, carefully not looking at either of them. "The Daoine Sidhe are after us, by order of King Midhir, to force Marc to come with them back to their own plane. Good?"
His brother stared back at him impassively. "For now."
Alex made a derisive noise, but didn't argue the point.
Patrick willed this information to process. He looked first at Marc, and then at the dark-haired boy busily prodding at his parody of a fire. "Why do they want Marc?"
"Because of the covenant - " The blond twin began, but he was cut off.
"He ate their food," Alex said abruptly, shooting his brother a 'look'. "I rescued him, but he's still half theirs - that's why he has fits and attracts people and all that other strange phenomena. I told you you didn't need to throw out your watch that time, remember? It works fine. Any more questions?"
Marc sighed, and stared off into the surrounding haze of smoke, almost wistfully.
Patrick took a moment to let the words sink in. Marc had eaten their food - faerie food. If he thought back to what Alex had told him earlier, a person who had eaten faerie food or touched faerie treasures would have had a claim put on him. Partly belonging to that world, in another sense. "So… Marc is half here and half there?"
"Sort of." Alex grimaced, and sighed again. "He's… more here than there," he said, with reluctance, "but if you notice him staring off at nothing, that's where his mind's at."
Things were starting to sink in more quickly; it was easier to wrap his mind around that and come up with questions. "If he's the one they're after, why did you risk leaving him alone and coming back for me?"
"There's a thanks for you!" Alex snorted, then touched his hand to the odd neckpiece under his shirt. "He's got the iron, so they can't actually take him. But," he added, face darkening, "I don't like them near him. Especially the Huntress."
"Because…" The dark-haired boy hesitated for a minute, sparing a glance for his twin, who didn't seem to be following the conversation - at least, not actively. "It hurts him. Not physically, but I don't like it. Makes him unhappy." Even giving away that much seemed to make him uncomfortable; after another moment of awkward silence, Alex looked away, making a face. "You know, you should get some of that iron for yourself. I can't always be around to save you."
Patrick wasn't about to argue that point - under the circumstances, it seemed like a good idea. There was obviously still a lot that the two of them were keeping from him, but he had a feeling it'd be pointless to ask. "Where can I find some?" he asked instead, pulling up his knees and resting his arms over them.
"We'll find you some in Antrim - unless you're too shook about this and want to stop traveling with us." Alex's voice was wry; he turned his face completely away as he said it, as if expecting some blow. "Neither of us would blame you."
"But you won't," Marc added unexpectedly. He'd turned his face into the discussion again, and smiled at Patrick, blithely confident. "Will you?"
His twin spun around to scowl. "Don't say it like that! You make it sound like he shouldn't say no. He can go ahead on his own if he likes." The look he directed toward Patrick was probably supposed to be a glare; it seemed a little too desperate to really fit the part.
Patrick shook his head. The exhilaration, terror, and unreal shock of his experience were wearing off quickly with the much calmer conversation. "I was going to say I'd stick around even before Marc said anything."
Alex looked… not really surprised, but a sort of strange mix of uncertainty, confusion, and something that might be hope. Some of that also shifted to agitation and he colored, turning away from Patrick's gaze as if he couldn't stand it for the feelings it called up in him. "Oh," was all he said, that earlier bluster gone.
Marc shot him a smug sort of look. "See?"
The younger twin's shoulders hunched, almost self-consciously. "Just… just never mind," he huffed, and deliberately didn't look at either of them.
Patrick was more than grateful for the silence that followed; it gave him some time to think about what had happened, and what his decision really meant. It was one of those unusual choices, at least for him. He didn't really have to think about it - if nothing else, it was because of his memories of conversations with Alex and even Marc, too, of seeing color spread over the dark-haired brother's face, listening to his voice, watching him move and the expressions change… His response of wanting to stay with them was so strong that he couldn't decide not to. Even though it would've been smarter, safer, and certainly more practical to decide otherwise.
And the kiss. Definitely that kiss was a big deciding factor; it was close to the surface of his memory, just at the edge of his thoughts where he could see it - but he didn't want to dwell on it without a certain amount of privacy. It was something necessary, right? He'd been panicking, and Alex needed both hands to hold him down - how else was he supposed to shut him up? But he wouldn't have done something that… extreme… if there wasn't some mutual attraction there. It had been nice, too. Not one-sided. Not simple.
What kind of attitude am I picking up? Patrick wondered, chewing on his bottom lip absently as he tried to put his thoughts in order. It wasn't like him to ignore all the logical arguments in favor of a kiss from someone he'd only known a few days. No matter how infatuated he might be.
That didn't mean he was going to change his mind, though - not hardly.
Patrick didn't end up sleeping much - the smoke was irritating, and of course he had to take his turn making sure it kept them surrounded, while Alex and Marc slept. But even when he had a chance, it was hard to let himself drift off. His thoughts were continually busy, and the remembered image of the Huntress haunted them to the point where he was almost afraid to let his guard down. But in the end, he fell into a kind of doze, and Alex woke him up when it got light enough out.
He wondered if Alex had got any more sleep than him; there were bags under the younger boy's eyes, and he was continually cranky, snapping at both his brother and Patrick for any number of little things.
He also spent a lot of time avoiding Patrick's gaze.
"He doesn't like being caught off guard," Marc told him later, after they'd stopped for lunch - thankfully outside of that 'grove' of trees - and Alex had wandered off to 'use the bushes'. "He just needs space. Let him think it over a bit."
"Sure." Patrick didn't know if he was thinking of it in those kind of terms - somehow the idea of 'when can I make a move?' seemed off. There was one thing that worried him, though… "Did I do something wrong?"
Marc blinked at him, looking a bit surprised. "I don't know. What did you do?"
Alex hadn't told him? Patrick could feel his cheeks heating a bit, and floundered, trying not to say anything that would give himself away. "I… um… nothing, really. I thought I might've, maybe, offended him. Or something?"
"Not that I noticed. Alex offends easy and then lets things go in the next breath." Marc seemed willing enough to take him at face value - or maybe he'd taken pity and decided not to pry. "It would have to have been something big to make him really hold a grudge."
That made him feel a bit better. "Okay. Thanks."
The blond smiled a bit, tilting his head. "Are you sorry you met us? This whole business is a bit of a mess, I'm afraid. I'm sure you'd never thought that you'd be confronting the supernatural on your vacation."
"Well, no. Actually, I don't - didn't - believe in faeries and goblins and whatever else." Patrick scratched his head, feeling a bit guilty. All along they'd known what they were talking about - he'd probably seemed pretty condescending, trying to humor them. "I'm, uh… I don't really know what to think about this. Sorry."
"It gets easier," Marc assured him, patting his shoulder as if to calm him down. "Just take it as it comes - try not to think too much."
"What," Alex said suddenly, approaching them again, "are you two talking about?" He looked a bit belligerent - Patrick wasn't sure if it was because he'd guessed that the conversation involved himself, or if he just didn't like the implication that he was being left out of something.
"I told Patrick not to think to much." Marc returned his brother's glare calmly. "Why? You're not getting jealous of your own twin, are you, Alex?"
The younger twin flushed. "Don't go slagging at me - I don't want to deal with your guff. And put that stupid book away!" he snapped suddenly, rounding on Patrick as he went to pull his slang dictionary from his pocket. "Can't you let on for a second that you're not a bloody tourist?"
"Not when you're talking like a bloody local," Patrick replied immediately, flipping pages as if he hadn't heard the order.
Alex snorted and turned away from him. "Come on, Marc, let's go. His hickey attitude's probably catching."
"You're only keeping the book out longer," the older boy reminded him, still searching for the phrases as he followed after them.
As predicted the day before, they made it to Antrim before noon, and stopped for a very large lunch. Parts of the city were supposed to be a bit of a tourist attraction, so Patrick dutifully took a walk around, using up more of the film and buying extra rolls while he had the chance. Alex seemed to be less antagonistic when he was allowed to display his knowledge, and gave him various useless bits of information of the large lake that was referred to as the Lough Neagh. There were a number of scenic views that Patrick captured on camera - particularly as it began to get dark and they got a spectacular sunset to go along with the rest of it.
"We can find a place to get you some iron tomorrow," Alex decided, leaning against a railing from a higher point in the city and resting his face on one hand as he stared across the lake. He was a lot calmer.
Patrick was more interested in how he looked outlined in pink and orange shades with the growing darkness providing a sleek outline at the moment. "Mmhm," he said agreeably, and took one last picture. At least once he got home he'd still be able to drive himself crazy over pictures of the painfully attractive Irish boy who had dragged him through a lot of bizarre experiences.
I'll probably wonder what the hell I was thinking this whole time.
"Why are you taking so many pictures?" Marc asked, standing a ways off to the side. A few of the pictures featured him as well - but not quite enough to match the number with his brother. "We still have a few places to go - save some of your film."
Patrick shrugged, checking how many were left on the current roll. "My dad was after me to spend more money anyway," he admitted. "He has this idea that if I'm not costing him a fortune, I'm not having enough fun."
Speaking of which, he was going to have to make another phone call while they were in town. The last one had been pretty rushed, and not very convincing - his parents were probably starting to get worried.
"Your whole family's off their nut," Alex pointed out, without turning around.
Patrick almost had to agree with him there.
Dinner was quiet - it was more comfortable than the silence had been during their lunch. Alex seemed less discontented than he was distracted, although interrupting his thoughts didn't bring about good results. Marc carried on a distant sort of conversation with Patrick, which wasn't very interesting and which the younger brother commented on only once or twice. For the most part, they ate their food, paid their bill, and went back to the motel they'd booked rooms at for the night.
No incidents. No mess. No fits.
Patrick called his parents. They weren't as worried as he'd expected. He stretched the truth and said that he and a few others were traveling a different route instead of with the rest of the group. His father almost sounded relieved to hear it.
All in all, the day was uneventful, and Patrick wasn't sure, by the time he laid down to sleep for the night, if it was an improvement over those before it.
Oddly enough, he was starting to get used to the chaos.
"We're not doing too badly, I don't think," Alex pointed out, eyeing Patrick's map. "If we find someone on the road today, we can be in Lurgan by tonight - that'll be another night in a motel, and then off on our way to Newry. We'll have plenty of time to make it to Dublin before your group moves on."
Marc nodded a bit, looking over his shoulder. They were standing at the side of the road, out in the open, with the map spread open in Alex's hands so the three of them could see it. "Allow a little for us to camp out again - it's never more than a few nights before I'll have another fit."
"Probably around Newry, if we don't do any foostering about," Alex replied, looking satisfied with the conclusion. "We'll camp outside of any groves - just close enough to get firewood, and that's all."
"I don't think I'd deal well with sleeping in the trees again," Patrick agreed, feeling his stomach turn over at the thought. He didn't like to think about his encounter with the Huntress - even with the newly purchased iron charm hanging around his neck.
"None of us would - hold on. Here's a car." Alex crumpled the map into one hand, boldly extending his thumb as the beat-up station wagon approached. It didn't slow even a little. "Bloody caffler!" he called after it.
"Probably too busy to bother with us," Marc mused, watching the car speed off and around the corner of a small, easily sloped hill. "Never mind."
"There seem to be a lot of people willing to pick us up," Patrick noticed, taking the map from Alex and storing it back in his bag. "More than I think we'd find where I live, anyway."
"It's friendlier here," Alex said immediately, and was kicked in the ankle by his brother. "Ow! Hump off!"
"You're the proof that it isn't friendlier, aren't you?"
"At least I'd stop for a group of buzzies."
Patrick grinned a bit. "In Canada, that's generally considered an act of stupidity."
"We're not in Canada, and here it's considered a courtesy." Alex frowned at him, a more normal expression than he'd been giving out lately. Actually, lately, he hadn't really been looking much at Patrick at all. The slightest touch made him pretty edgy, and he had been avoiding any sort of contact other than casual conversation - with Marc present.
Whether that was a good thing or a bad thing, Patrick wasn't sure. Maybe he was just nervous - he was inexperienced, after all - but maybe…
Well, he didn't really want to think about that.
"Another car," Marc announced, and held out his hand before either of the other two could move to do so.
The car - a reasonably well-looked-after light green Sunfire - pulled over, and a bulky man who looked about thirty rolled down his window to address them. "Where’re you boyos heading?" he asked, cheerfully.
"Lurgan," Alex answered, shrugging a bit. "Then Newry."
"I'll be stopping in Lurgan - go ahead and hop in."
"Thank you." Marc smiled, and the three of them moved around to get themselves and their bags into the newfound transportation.
"More sight-seeing?" Alex sighed.
Patrick shook his head, with a bit of a smile. "I think I'm getting sick of it, honestly - anyway, this place has a pool and a hot tub. I could use a good soak."
The younger boy wrinkled his nose. "That's what a bathtub is for."
"True, but I haven't seen a bathtub in any of the motels we've stayed at." It was a reasonable argument, even if he had to say it himself. "You two want to join me?"
"Join you for what?" Marc asked, as he came out of the front office with his and Alex's keys for their room. He looked curious.
"Swimming." Patrick nodded toward the outdoor pool area. "Or hot-tubbing, either one."
"I hate swimming," Alex announced, a bit crossly.
"We don't have bathing suits, either," Marc added, his voice apologetic. "But I don't mind sitting outside in one of those chairs, if you want to swim."
"Sure." Patrick shrugged, then smiled again. "Either way, I'd like to get in the water. We've been to a couple of beaches on this trip - I was really hoping for more. Somehow a pool isn't quite the same."
"Somehow? Because it doesn't have waves or salt water," Alex pointed out. "It's a simple enough distinction."
"Maybe." He didn't really feel like arguing. "I'm going to go check out my room and get changed. You can meet me by the pool if you want. Or sit around and watch TV - whatever works."
"Right," Alex said sarcastically. He wasn't a big fan of TV.
Patrick wasn't about to try and convince him otherwise.
It was nice to get into the water - for whatever reason, it made the whole trip feel a lot more like a holiday again, for the first time since he'd met with Alex and Marc. Maybe it was a silly thing, connecting pools and vacations, but he couldn't help it. Too many motels with pools from back when he was a kid.
And since the trip had become a very surreal sort of adventure, he would take what he could get from old memories.
Marc did as he'd promised and sat himself down in one of the lawn chairs, with his eyes closed and a beatific smile on his face, looking either asleep or in a daydreaming state. And probably not entirely present in the world, literally. His brother had taken off his shoes and socks, rolled up his jeans, and was dangling his feet into the water, gingerly.
Patrick swam over and held onto the side near where he was sitting. "Hot?"
"Yeah, a bit." The words were grudging. Alex glanced at him, smiled a little, and quickly looked away, blinking rapidly. It was a welcome change from the bad tempered snapping he'd been dealing out lately. "I don't like swimming, but I don't mind being around water. It's refreshing."
"Can't argue with that." Patrick smiled back, even though the younger boy wasn't really looking at him any more. "So where are you two planning to go after you drop me off in Dublin?"
The younger boy shrugged, jerkily. "I don't know. Haven't thought about it." He let out a long breath, and ran a hand through his hair. "We're all over the place most of the time. Wherever we happen to go, that's all. It's worked so far."
"And it's been five years?" They hadn't actually said that, but since that was how long they'd been traveling… "Did the sidhe have anything to do with your parents dying?"
"No. Not with that." Alex shook his head firmly, and watched his feet move in the water for a moment. "It was something else."
"Oh." Patrick had a feeling this was a touchy subject, so he didn't linger on it. "Are you ever going to just settle down? Or would you want to?"
"I do - I know Marc does, too." Alex kicked one foot a bit, and half-smiled. "We're trying to find a way to get him entirely into our world - trick them out of their claim, sort of. I haven't found anything yet, but if there's a way, we'll come across it some time."
Patrick had his doubts, but he knew better than to voice them. "What would happen if you left Ireland?"
Alex's expression turned a bit pained. "It's better not to try."
"Because Marc's pretty finely split between their plane and ours - and this is where the divide happens to be for him." He frowned a bit, and shook his head. "The farther we take him from it, the worse he'll get. That's why we mostly stay in Northern Ireland if we can."
"That's inconvenient," Patrick noted, sympathetically.
"Tell me about it."
They sat in silence for a moment.
"So - " Patrick began, at the same time as Alex said, "Do you - ?" They both stopped and looked at each other, and then the older boy waved a hand with a bit of a smile. "Do you need to leave when your group does?"
"You want me to stay?" Patrick blinked at him. His skin buzzed at that; his heart beat a bit faster. That was... unexpected...
Alex colored a bit, still not looking at him. "You've been sort of helpful. And not bad company," he added, quickly. "Anyway, you're more logical than either of us - maybe you'd help us find the answer more quickly."
He couldn't help grinning a bit - even if there had been other reasons, Alex had still said it. "Well, if you guys need me, I wouldn't mind. See how it goes?"
The younger boy did turn then, and offered him a self-conscious sort of smile. "Okay."
Patrick ended up sleeping much better that night than he had in a while, and woke up early in the morning. The sun was still rising when he got himself dressed and wandered out to sit by the pool - as a sort of spur of the moment decision. Relaxing while he had a chance was a good idea, especially if he planned to travel around with the twins for longer.
The thought still made him smile as he sat down in approximately the same spot Alex had been when they'd had the conversation. Things between the two of them seemed to have brightened up a lot. Obviously Marc had been right when he'd said it would work out if Patrick just backed off for a bit.
So, maybe… If I'm here for that long…
Patrick started, a bit guiltily, and looked up in time to see the older twin sit down beside him, looking far too fresh for such an early hour. "Morning," he answered, and had to clear his throat - his voice was still sleep-fogged.
"You don't seem as interested in seeing the sights here," Marc pointed out, pulling his knees to his chest instead of dipping his feet into the water as his brother had. "Is it not as interesting as Antrim?"
Patrick shrugged. "After a while, all the places sort of blur together." He kept his voice low, caught up in that instinctive desire not to break the morning stillness.
"I think you'll like Newry, though," the younger boy said, with a bit of a smile. "It's a larger city, and there are a couple of interesting sights. You might use up more of your camera film there."
"Maybe." Honestly, sight-seeing wasn't as exciting when the people you were with thought of everything as commonplace.
"A lot of good stories about the place," Marc added, blissfully ignoring Patrick's less-than-enthusiastic response. "Alex will probably tell you while we're on the road. He's always loved hearing and repeating old legends. That's why it's so easy to get him to talk about the Daoine Sidhe."
"But those are legends that turned out to be true," Patrick pointed out.
"Can you think of a better type of legend than that?"
He had to admit, there wasn't a good reply to that.
After another moment, Marc spoke again - his voice was quiet, and he stared down at the water as he talked. "You told my brother that you might want to travel with us some more."
"Right." It was hard to see where this was going… Did Marc not want him along? "If things work out well."
The blond turned serious grey eyes on him. "What about coming back here some time after to stay permanently?"
Permanently? Patrick felt his eyes widen a bit. "I…" He choked a bit, and tried again, "I-I don't know about that… I'd have to think - "
"You might not have that much time to think about it." Marc's voice was abrupt, and not happy at all - he turned away again, swallowing hard. "Alex thinks it'll be easy to solve this 'problem' I have - that he can just sever all ties and make me part of this world again, completely. It's not so simple as that."
Patrick licked his lips. "Why not?"
"Because it's not supposed to be done." The older twin sighed, and shut his eyes, looking suddenly pained. "It's not just a claim they have on me - it's a claim twice fold. Things like that aren't so easily cut, and particularly when the benefactor - " He stopped, suddenly.
"The benefactor…?" Patrick urged. He got no response. "There's a problem with you, other than the claim?"
"In a way." Marc's voice had gone even softer; he didn't open his eyes. "I can't leave Alex here. I can't. He wouldn't function without me. I have to stay in this world, because I'm all he has. Do you understand?"
A sneaking sort of suspicion was creeping up on Patrick. "You say you can't," he repeated, slowly. "But do you want - ?"
"The question," Marc interrupted, looking up abruptly with a forced smile, "is whether or not you'd make sure of his health and happiness if something happened to me."
To his credit, Patrick managed not to get up and run away; the little panic button at the back of his head under the category of 'commitment' was inching from being pressed and sending off alarm bells. "I-I don't know… I guess - I mean, I wouldn't just leave him or anything…" He quit fumbling around with words. "You say that like you expect something to happen to you."
Marc shrugged, but didn't answer him.
Patrick looked down at the water. It was light enough so that he could see the bottom of the pool, which had been cleaned and looked very neat. More so than his own selfish balking at being tied down at the moment was his dread over what was probably ahead for Alex.
And whether or not he could help even if he was able to try.