Threads of Fate



Part Seven




There were faint rays of sunlight streaming in through the window in Patrick's room by the time he was awake enough to open his eyes a fraction and look around.


It had to be at least mid-morning - later than he was usually up - and he felt oddly lethargic, a little stiff, and not very inclined to move much. Not that he'd done it often, but these were the usual sort of feelings he got the morning after he'd -




Patrick turned his head to the side. He was sprawled out over more than half the bed, which wasn't too much of a problem, since it looked like Alex slept in the curled-up position of someone who'd had years of experience in sharing a bed. Somehow during the night, though, the balance of covers had shifted over to his side.


Only fair, I guess, Patrick reflected, with a small smile. In any case, loss of warmth was worth it for waking up like this.


Things were probably going to get a bit awkward when the younger boy woke up… but Patrick felt fairly confident that he could handle that. The previous night had sort of skipped over cautious fairly quickly - Alex, apparently, wasn't satisfied with halfway measures. He wanted everything, and after the initial uncertainty, he generally wasn't shy about asking for it. Or demanding it, more like. Lips, tongue, skin, sensation, passion… Everything had to be involved as much as possible.


They were both young enough to enjoy going at it until they couldn't take it any more, anyway.


The dippy grin spreading across his face probably wasn't going to leave it now that those thoughts were being entertained, either. Patrick felt confident enough to reach out and put a hand on Alex's bare arm, asserting his reality.


I guess it has been a while since I got some…


"Mmphrghn." Alex shifted under his touch, head burying hard into the pillows. "Izzuh milluhth'nigh', g'way."


"It's not the middle of the night," Patrick told him, keeping his voice soft and carefully running his thumb over the curve of the younger boy's shoulder. "It's somewhere between breakfast and lunch time."


"Mm." Alex arched his spine luxuriously and smiled lazily, probably not quite processing what he'd just been told.


It took about two seconds.


"Wha…?" A set of grey eyes shot open, and their owner jerked around a bit, blinking at Patrick with momentary confusion - before realization set in. "Oh, yeah." Alex yawned widely, and stretched a bit, trying to talk at the same time. "Mor - Morning."


"Morning." Well, so far the level of awkward wasn't too high.


Alex shut his eyes for a moment, and despite a bit of color rising on his face, the lazy grin seemed to be making its way back into his expression. "We did a lot of shagging last night, didn't we?"


"Define 'a lot'," Patrick answered him, with a bit of a smile.


The dark-haired twin cracked one eye open. "I hadn't done it before. Once is a lot for me." He frowned then, opening the other eye. "This isn't going to get uncomfortable, is it? Because if so, I'm leaving." The frown deepened. "Marc's probably wondering about me, anyway…"


Patrick shifted a bit, so he was resting on his side, facing his - lover? That was the word for it. "Well, it doesn't have to get uncomfortable."


Alex was studying him, thoughtfully. "So it's not some kind of standard for waking up naked in bed with someone?"


"Not exactly." Where had he heard these things? It would've been interesting to know… "It happens a lot, but it's not required, if that's what you mean."


"Oh. Well, good." The younger boy seemed satisfied; he pushed himself up, a little smirk growing on his face, and placed himself inside his partner's personal space. "In that case, since we're not going to be awkward, let's go ahead and do it again, good?" His voice was just short of breathless, eyes heavy-lidded, and body language more than welcoming.


Patrick didn't really have much chance to answer, but if he had, it would have been with a very emphatic yes.




It was some time later that they actually got around to showering and dressing - by mutual decision, a shared shower was rejected, which probably lowered the time it took to get clean by quite a bit. Alex, however, was actually humming contentedly as he pulled on his jeans and shirt.


Something about relieving tension, maybe? Patrick grinned to himself.


"What's this?" Alex suddenly strode over to the door and picked up a folded square of paper that had apparently been shoved under it. He unfolded the sheet, quickly scanned over it, and promptly scowled.


"What?" Patrick moved over for a look.


"It's from my brother." Alex's voice had a note of flat resignation in it. "He said he'd be at the restaurant next door when we 'finished', and maybe we could join him in time for lunch." The scowl deepened.


Patrick checked his watch. "He's not far off."


"I didn't tell him I was coming here." The younger twin sighed, rolling his eyes upward. "I'll never hear an end to this, I'm sure."


"Not like he didn't know before this," Patrick reminded him, with a shrug. He had, in fact, been continually reminded that Marc knew about what was going on with his brother and the stranger they'd picked up.


"Well, yes, but the fact that he's not surprised means he predicted it almost to the second." Alex made a face, crumpling the note. "He'll be awful to live with after this."


There wasn't much he could say to that - it was true, after all. "Probably."


"Oh well." The dark-haired boy tossed the balled-up paper into the trash bin. "Let's go meet him, then."


The restaurant next to the motel was a little more mainstream than those that they'd been visiting before, which meant it was fairly busy but not uninviting. It took some time to find Marc - he was near the far end of the room, sitting on one side of a booth that was situated sort of in the middle of the room, without a wall on either side. It almost looked - to Patrick - like he was listening to someone across from him while they talked, but it was impossible to see if there was anyone there from the angle they were at.


Alex shouldered his way through the crowd, forcing Patrick to follow his lead. "Marc!"


The blond looked up, and smiled. "Good morning." Somehow, he seemed brighter than usual - as if something had happened that made him quite happy.


The answer to that question and the question of who he might be talking to was answered as they came closer, and saw that the seat opposite Marc was occupied by a small, red-haired girl of about twenty.


Alex stopped dead in his tracks, and Patrick almost ran into him.


She was a pretty girl - not extraordinarily so, but in a way that seemed to draw attention to her. Her eyes were bright and green and lively, and she had a friendly, enticing way of smiling that suggested she enjoyed being fully active in whatever she did and liked to encourage others to be the same way. Her features were small, delicate, almost elf-like, and there was the same sort of muted otherness about her that characterized Marc. She wore her hair down, and Patrick imagined he could see it with flowers and vines woven into it. Her clothing was plain and simple - jeans and a tank top, nothing special or fancy about it.


But she wasn't normal; that was obvious immediately.


"Good morning, Alexander," she said, in a tone that suggested she suspected that this would aggravate him and even anticipated it.


Patrick glanced at the boy beside him - Alex did look aggravated. More than aggravated; he looked downright pissed off. "What are you doing here?" he almost growled out, flopping into the seat beside his brother and glaring across the table.


The girl shrugged, again with what was probably an infuriating superiority, and glanced toward Patrick. "You can sit down - I'm not going to bite."


"I wouldn't count on it," Alex muttered, even as the older boy took her up on the offer.


"This is Etain," Marc addressed Patrick, quietly, smiling across the table at the girl.


Etain. That was definitely a familiar name. Watching the blond now, Patrick's mind could make several connections that hadn't been entirely clear before. Etain was the girl he'd seen during his fits - the faerie princess, as he'd called her when Alex described her position. And - the way Marc looked at her, how he stared across the table with soft, longing eyes, that small affectionate smile… And even the way she met his gaze, almost sadly, the liveliness fading just a bit as if this one point in her life were a grievous wound that tainted the rest… It answered his questions. Why the blond had been so terribly sad when he snapped out of his convulsions. Why he sometimes looked wistful, or stared off into the distance as if he was missing something. Why he'd implied, back when they'd had their conversation, that he only stayed in this world for Alex's sake and not because he wanted to at all.


So it turns out that this is a tragic love story, and not an action piece after all.


And Alex didn't look very happy about it at all.


"I'm here on business," Etain was telling them, and smiled a bit, shrugging. "In a sense. I've been commissioned to bring you a message, and that is to be prepared to make a certain decision." She paused a moment. "I'm not privileged to know the details of the options in this choice, but the situation is familiar to all of us, I'm sure."


Marc nodded. Alex scowled.


Patrick felt a bit lost.


"Sure you're not here on your other business?" the younger twin said, almost accusingly. "You seemed eager enough to take care of that the last time we crossed paths, didn't you?"


"Alex," Marc reproached, almost wearily. Patrick got the feeling that he'd been through a lot of similar conversations involving his brother and this faerie girl.


"It's part of the persona I wear on the job - you're aware of that, aren't you?" Etain didn’t seem very offended. If anything, she was taking it very calmly - a fact that obviously increased Alex's bad feelings towards her. "One can't mix one's personality with a task they've chosen to undertake, no matter how much it may conflict with one's personal inclinations."


"A task - right!" Alex made a derisive noise. "That's what you call stealing souls, is it? Nothing but a game to you."


Stealing souls? Patrick looked at the girl again - and had to do a double-take for a moment. She had seemed a bit familiar, but… he hadn't thought… "You're that - " For a second, he choked on his words, astonished and alarmed. "The Huntress!"


Etain sighed, and then smiled a bit, shaking her head. "You've found me out, I see. My dreadful secret is thus revealed." That last came with an over-dramatic clapping of one hand over her chest. "What ever is a girl to do?"


Her humorous attitude towards this discovery was really the only thing that kept Patrick from bolting out of the table and leaving the restaurant as soon as possible. His memory of that encounter in the woods was still strong in his mind, but he was having a lot of trouble connecting this seemingly harmless girl with the deadly entity he'd come across then. "What - you - I mean…"


"She's not the Huntress right now," Alex cut in, rolling his eyes upward as if it should've been obvious. "Anyway, she can't do anything to you as long as you have that iron, remember?"


Patrick made an effort to relax - although it was difficult. He stared at Etain some more. She looked like an ordinary girl - maybe kind of an overly confident girl, but nothing frightening or unnatural like that lady in the woods. "Oh."


"Think of it…" She frowned a bit, and then went on, "It is a job of mine, much the same as the more mundane jobs you choose to take. It is customary to wear a uniform, correct?"


"Usually," Patrick agreed, relaxing a bit more. She really seemed friendly.


"Exactly so." Etain beamed, as if that explained it all. "I must wear a certain persona on the job, in order to accomplish the tasks they set me. In actuality, the Huntress and I are two very different personalities."


"Occasionally," Marc added, with a faint smile.


She pouted at him. "That is an unfair judgement, and you hold a bias in any case."


"Knowing you as well as I do only puts me in a better position to judge you." The blond shrugged, then ducked his head and looked up at her with soft grey eyes. "And I know you'll forgive me."


"Only if you endeavor to make it up to me." Etain's expression softened as well, and she reached across the table to brush his hair from his eyes.


Alex's reaction was immediate and harsh - half-jumping out of his seat to slap her hand away. "Don't," he said, voice lower and angrier than Patrick had heard it. His eyes were harder than steel, expression set.


Etain looked startled for a second, and then she smiled, looking pained. "Ah," she said, very quietly, and looked away.


Marc said nothing, but his eyes followed her movement, wistful and resigned.


Patrick squirmed in his seat, not liking the tension that had added itself to the scene. "So," he said, after a moment of trying desperately to find something to say. "It's… pretty nice weather. We're walking, aren't we?"


"Marc had a fit." Alex's voice was low and clipped; his glare was still directed at the red-haired girl. "We have to."


"Right." Oh boy… Now what?


"I won't trouble you for much longer." Etain glanced quickly at Alex as she spoke, expression tightening somewhat. "I've given the message - I only had a morning's time for excursions in any case. And it's best not to overstep my bounds if I'm to aide you later on."


"Aide us? Aide us?" Alex jumped to his feet again, the force of his anger almost saturating the air around him, it was so apparent. "What could you possibly hope to gain by aiding us? There's nothing you'd like more than to see us fail!"


Surprisingly enough, Etain's gaze hardened as well, and she glared back stubbornly. "Perhaps I do and perhaps I'm selfish for it," she retorted, hotly. "But unlike a certain someone I could name, I put the interests of the person I care for most above my own!"


"Etain." Marc's voice was pained.


"Put his interests first?" Alex's voice was rising, incredulous and furious. "By stealing him away from his family? By seducing him so he'd be willing to stay? Manipulating him until he can't be happy either way, taking us away from the time and place we knew so we'd never be happy just because we didn't want to stay with you sneaking, thieving - !"


"Alex!" If anything, Marc looked more agonized by then.


Patrick was starting to feel a little lost. 'The time and place we knew'…?


"Don’t assume things about me simply because you feel the facts are unimportant." Etain had stood as well, returning Alex's glare with her own indignation. "I made no attempts to seduce anyone, and if I had, it'd not be for any reason than because I wished with all my being to be a part of his life! Furthermore," she added, drawing herself up, "blaming my people for upholding a compact that was set in place by a mortal's selfish design is - "


"A compact that ended over a century ago!" The younger twin still looked flushed with anger. "And you had no right to throw us hundreds of years into the future, where we'd hardly have a hope of understanding the world around us, just out of spite! I won him back fair and square!"


Patrick sank back against his seat, stunned. That… what…?


Hundreds of years into the future? But… it didn't…


"That," Etain was responding, voice icy, "was your own doing and none of ours. A mortal with a twice-fold claim, being ripped from the plane which claimed him? There are consequences involved for the order of such things. No spite inflicted but that of the world you defied so boldly."


"You two should stop," Marc interrupted softly, as Alex opened his mouth to respond. "We hadn't told Patrick some of the things he's just had shouted out in front of him. Think about his reactions for a moment."


Alex started, and cast a quick, guilty look in Patrick's direction, some of his anger seeming to fade from his expression. It was difficult to process, somewhere beneath the levels of shock settling in his mind, but a part of Patrick would probably appreciate the concern later on.


When he was able to really think about it again, anyway.


"I apologize," Etain said shortly. "For that much." Her gaze shifted to Marc, and softened; the force seemed to go out of her with a sigh. "It would be better if I left."


"I'll walk you outside," Marc offered immediately, and started to rise.


"Marc!" Alex sounded dismayed; he stared at his twin.


"That'll be more trouble than it's worth, I think." Etain smiled, a bit sadly, and slid out of the booth. "Goodbye."


Marc's eyes followed her wistfully as she left, but he said nothing.


As usual.


Patrick licked his lips, and focussed on Alex, who had sunk back into his seat, sullenly. "I - " He stopped, realizing he really wasn't sure what to start with. 'I want answers'? 'So what was all that business about another time?' 'Did I just sleep with someone who's two or three hundred years old?'


None of those seemed quite right.


"Oh, feck this." Alex drummed his fingers on the table, clearly agitated. "There are too many people around; we're making a holy show of it. We'll explain when we make camp tonight."


"Um." Patrick took a quick look around. There were a couple of people eyeing them curiously - probably wondering about the argument between Alex and Etain, and what exactly was going on. From the expressions on some of the faces, a few of them had probably caught pieces of the conversation, too. "I guess so."


"It's a full moon tonight," Marc pointed out, softly. He was still staring after Etain - the expression on his face had shifted back to that vaguely resigned one that Patrick saw on him so often.


How often does he have to settle like that?


In the middle of this whole big mess, it was obvious that the blond twin was the one getting the short end of the stick.


"I know it is." Alex stopped drumming his fingers, and shoved his hands away under the table, glaring down at the surface as if it could substitute for the red-haired faerie princess who had just left them. "But there's not much we can do about it. You only just had a fit last night. We'll stay away from forests, that's all."


Marc turned, finally, to look at him. "We'll still need firewood."


"Right, if we want to have smoke." The younger twin made a face. "Considering what she said about making a decision, we can probably expect a visit tonight. Better not to take chances - we'll camp out beside a forest, but not close enough to it so that it's a problem."


"Etain didn't… uh." Patrick was a bit startled by the intensity of the glare Alex suddenly directed at him. That was a look that said 'this had better be good'. He took in a breath. "I mean, she seemed civil enough. Maybe it's a sign of good will?"


"She's a bloody sleeveen; you can't trust her just because she's acting like a saint." The younger boy frowned at him. "You met her in the woods, didn't you? A person who can change her personality at a whim can't be trusted."


Marc shut his eyes. "Don't say that, Alex."


"It's the truth!"


"This is one thing you can't understand, and I want you to trust me when I tell you that." The blond's voice was deceptively quiet; he kept his eyes shut and his face tilted toward the table. "You and Etain argue, but I won't listen to you saying bad things about her behind her back."


Surprisingly enough, Alex immediately subsided, although he looked pretty sulky about it. "Do you say the same thing to her?"


"I don't have to," Marc answered, slowly - pointedly.


Alex bit his lip, tossed one almost devastated look at his twin, and fell quiet, staring down at the table.


Patrick let the silence deepen. Watching the two of them was hard - especially based on what he'd already found out. Marc is in love with Etain. That was obvious, watching them interact. They have a twice-fold claim on him. She'd said it herself, and no one had denied it - eating the food, obviously, and then whatever that 'compact' had been. Marc wants to go back. He was sure about that, too.


And Alex would fall apart if he did.


He didn't know what he could do to make things better, whether Marc believed it was possible for him or not.