Threads of Fate
"We won't have much time to go sight-seeing after all." Alex ran a finger along the railing outside his and Marc's hotel room. His brother was inside, in the shower; Patrick stood beside him with his back to the railing. "I don't like sitting around when they know where we are."
"But they've already contacted you," Patrick pointed out - more because he was interested in Alex's thought process than because he really cared about seeing the sights. He was too deeply involved by then to really care about much else. "What else do you think they'd want to do? Obviously they don't want to attack you here, or they would've done it already."
"I know. But it makes me anxious." Alex let out a long breath, following his finger's path with his eyes. "They might have another plan. You never know with them. They're sneaky - sometimes they don't need to attack."
He looked more unhappy than really worried - Patrick frowned a bit, watching him. He was willing to admit that at the moment, he worried more for Alex than for Marc or Etain, but there was a certain amount of the inevitable hanging over the whole business. There didn’t seem to be a way to get around the misery ahead for the younger twin, much as Patrick wanted to help him.
What can I do? I'd like to help in some way. But how?
Obviously, saying "just get over it" wasn't going to win him any points.
"You really think they'll try something after having contacted you?" he said, instead.
"Probably not," Alex admitted, voice growing low. He traced a circle onto the rough metal in front of him. "I can't help it - I feel like something's coming, and I want to get Marc away before it does. We're always moving."
"To keep them from finding you?" That had seemed pretty futile…
"Not… exactly that." The younger twin bit his lip, then went on. "They don't have trouble finding us if they really need to. But staying in one place can get us attached to it - I don't want that, if they do decide to attack. It would make leaving more painful."
Patrick nodded. "That does make sense."
"And then we're always looking for a way to help Marc." Alex looked up then, a bit of a pained smile on his face. "I'm sure it's not impossible. There's a way, if we look hard enough."
He looked small, suddenly - vulnerable, hurt. Patrick felt the answering ache in his chest, the teeth-clenching helplessness that he would have to sit back and be unable to do anything for him. How fast I got attached… Who believed in this kind of romance, coming up this fast? Less than a week.
And he was probably in love with Alex.
"I want to do something to help you," he said out loud, without really meaning to say it. The amount of affection in his tone was shocking even to himself. "I hate having to sit back and watch, without even knowing the whole story."
Alex blinked, starting a bit as Patrick reached out to touch his face with careful fingers. "I - " He had to pause to swallow hard, and stared back with eyes that seemed to melt even as the older boy watched. "I want to tell you… I want you to - " His eyes shut and his breath caught, as if he couldn't quite believe what he was saying. "I want - "
Inside their room, the door to the bathroom suddenly creaked open.
The dark-haired twin jerked upright immediately, his expression startled for just a second before it settled into a sort of determination. "Time to head out," he said, turning away, and strode into the room without a glance behind him. "Marc?"
Patrick let his hand drop.
I don't think there is a way I can do this. Not if he's not going to let me.
It wasn't until much later that night when Patrick was finally given the chance to hear the entire story - and both Alex and Marc had assured him that this really was the entire story. Nothing left out. No more secrets.
It was a relief as much as it was nerve-wracking. Patrick had braced himself for another shock to his system.
I pretty well have to suspend my disbelief during this whole business, don't I?
"One of us is going to have to go get more firewood when we're done here," Alex commented, poking at the fire with a stick and avoiding Patrick's gaze. "There's not nearly enough to last the night."
"No," Marc agreed, watching his brother carefully. Apparently he'd decided the same thing Patrick had - that it was best to let Alex choose when and how to tell the story.
"It is kind of spooky," Patrick added. Truthfully, after everything he'd been through, he viewed the moon hanging full in the sky with more than a little apprehension. He really didn't like the idea of being attacked by more faeries - and that shivery feeling was back, like a warning. For some reason, he had the feeling that if he wasn't careful, something very bad was going to take place.
The annoying thing about those kinds of instincts was that they seemed to end up being right way too often.
"The Sidhe Draoi can't venture very far from their trees," Alex said, in a flat, knowing voice - as if to reassure him. "Even during Esbats, when their power is at its fullest. We should be safe enough where we are."
Patrick spared a glance for the dark section of trees just a few meters from where they were camped out - a ways from the road and human constructs. It made him feel isolated, somehow - cut off from both the world he knew and the world that threatened them. And that was pretty weird. Not really good or bad in itself, just odd.
More of these instincts, maybe?
"All right." Alex let out a long sigh, and then raised his eyes to meet Patrick's across the fire. There were appealing shadows playing across his face - a reminder that having slept with him once didn't exactly make him less attractive. "I guess you'll want that story I promised you."
"Only if it's the truth," Patrick countered.
"There wouldn't be much point in telling it to you if it weren't," Alex replied, and rested back on his hands. "Anyway, you might as well relax - there's some substance to this one."
Patrick situated himself comfortably on the ground, and waited.
The younger twin exchanged one quick glance with his brother, and then began.
His name was Adair, and he was the son of the Lord who ruled over a region that stretched from the mountains to the ocean. Those peasants who lived in that region obeyed their family without question, and were the property of those who inherited the land.
Adair would inherit when his father died. He was an only son, with three younger sisters and an ailing mother who could not give birth again. As such, he was a valuable commodity and often spoiled by his father and uncles, who anticipated his coming into power upon the day when he would reach the proper age.
He was also young, and like many other boys of less than twenty years, headstrong and given to impulse.
It was shortly after his fifteenth birthday that Adair had come across a member of the Gentry - a Leprechaun hoarding a cauldron of treasure. Under the cover of dark did the solitary sidhe sit on his toadstool throne and polish the pieces, so enthralled with his prize that he did not watch as he should to avoid observance.
Adair, as it happened, was returning from a hunting trip, with the prize of a boar to bring to his father's table. It was the glint from one of the gold pieces, newly polished, which caught his eye and brought his attention down upon that which his mortal gaze was not meant to behold.
Such a wonder, Adair had never seen. Here it was, the truth of the legends, one of the Daoine Sidhe, the little people, plain to see and with its beautiful treasure laid open and sparkling in the moonlight.
So enthralled was he that the young Lord never felt the grasp of longing take hold of his heart, clenching with such a grip that it seemed never to let go. What a marvelous thing, thought he. It seems so simple - so lovely. How can it not be taken from him - surely others would find it so as well, those of larger stature and more power?
But the Leprechaun seemed unconcerned - as Adair watched, though, he finished with his polishing and hid the treasure chest amid the forest debris, where no mortal who did not know exactly where to look would find it.
Adair tried to banish the memory from him, but it haunted him even through the rest of the night and well into the morning. The gold, glittering in the little man's tiny hands as he polished, was a fixed image in his head, a taunting that he was powerless to resist.
And so, partway through the day, Adair stole away to uncover the treasure and take a share for himself.
It was sad that the boy had not learned, before, the perils of setting hands on the prizes of the good people. For in the instant that his fingers touched the gold, he was at once claimed and lost, stolen from the world of his birth to become a part of that other.
Adair's aging father was distraught beyond all reason when his son's fate was made clear to him - he endeavored to contact the sidhe by measure of a circle and a chant passed down by his ancestors.
"Give me back my son!" he cried, when at last he had summoned up the conscious and likeness of the Sidhe King. "He did not realize his own folly. I beg of you, I will do anything for his safe return!"
"That cannot be so," said Midhir, "for a claim hath been set, and will not be released, with any safety for either world. The mortal is ours - whether he was conscious of the rule he broke or not, the claim is apparent."
His Lordship despaired - at last resort, he asked desperately, "Can not another be taken in his place?"
Midhir considered. "What would be the nature of this compact?"
Now, Adair's father was growing on in years, and somewhat foolish and self-concerned, so it occurred not to him what grief he caused when he offered, "Any one of my subjects which pleases you - they are in thrall to me, and may be traded in return."
In a moment, the Sidhe King replied. "You would allow us, then, to make a claim on those we wish, in exchange for the continual safety of thou and thine own family, as long as thy line continues unbroken?"
"Yes, yes!" agreed the aging father. "Anything!"
"Very well," agreed Midhir. "Then we will return thy son to thee on this condition. That we may mark at birth those who belong to us in exchange, and spirit them away in the dark of night shortly thereafter. Shall it be so?"
"As I said," the Lord consented. "Anything you wish. Do as you must, so long as my son is returned unharmed."
"Done, then," the Sidhe King announced.
And thus was set in place the compact, which would continue on for generations to follow.
"So…" Patrick paused for a minute, letting that sink in a bit. "They just took people, whenever they wanted?"
"Those marked at birth," Marc corrected him.
"It didn’t happen often," Alex added, shrugging a bit but not looking very happy about it. "Children were never allowed to remain with their parents beyond that first night - it was usually a matter of hours before they were stolen away."
Patrick was familiar with several pieces of history that told these kind of stories - the upper class inflicting injustices on those who served them, that was. "It's sad," he commented. "But I don't see what it has to do with you two."
"I'm getting to that." Alex frowned at him, looking a bit annoyed. "Can I go on now?"
"Right. Sorry." Patrick nodded quickly. "Go ahead."
"Thank you." The younger boy took in another breath, and started up again.
His name was Blaine, and he was a long-time wanderer. He came into their village with stories from far-away lands, tales of intrigue and history, deceit and love, war and cruelty. His was the air of an adventurer - boisterous and wild - and the people there loved him, even as the elders put aside only some of their wariness to be at ease in his company.
And he would not have stayed, but for one reason.
She was called Isleen - fair and golden, and with enough will to conquer his wanderlust. She hungered most for his stories and ignored her mother's cautioning and her father's disapproval in order to seek him out, and soften him with her smiles. He was captivated by her, and she by him, and they spent many happy hours in each other's company before making the final and joyous decision.
By the light of a waning moon, Blaine and Isleen were married, and the village celebrated and toasted their health and happiness.
Who could say, however, what drew the Daoine Sidhe to claim a child?
The decision had to have been made before the babe ever saw the light of day, for if he or she were to be marked, it was before birth. No one spoke of the stolen child - there was nothing said when a woman full with child one day was without girth or newborn the next.
But if did not happen often, and there was no cause to suspect any unordinary circumstances when Isleen blossomed into expectant motherhood before the eyes of her kin and proud husband. She grew large - enough so that there was talk even before the birth, of what would come. "There is surely more than one child," said the ladies, and Isleen was radiant with the promise.
The moment of birth was confirmation of the rumor, for there were indeed two children ready to be born - twins, separated by a third of an hour, and a miraculously easy birth for the mother.
And the first, the eldest, was marked plain as day - an unearthly sense emanating from his unnaturally calm newborn face. As his smaller brother wailed, the midwife looked up from the babe to proclaim his fate to the anxious parents.
It could have been a brief moment of grief - quick separation and a terrible loss, but there was the other child to take care of, a child who never needed to know he had a brother at all. It would be a strong grief, but a passing one, and little harm would be done.
But it was not to be so easy. For when the wee folk came in the night to spirit away the child, they found - not one - but two cradles, with two identical babes within, both birthed from the same mother and on the same evening. Those sent to take the child, being not clever enough to determine which was their quarry, returned empty-handed that night.
Misfortunate for King Midhir, and misfortunate for the child's family, for a sacrifice not taken rightly must be left for the next rite of passage, on the 16th year of that child's life. The babe must then remain and grow to manhood and form attachments which must then be severed cruelly when the time arrived.
"Cast it out," said the people of the village. "Send it away, leave it to fend for itself - but away from our village, for it will bring the ill wishes of the spirits with it wherever it goes."
But the mother and father could not do this. "He is my child," said she. "Sustained by me until the birth, and I will sustain him afterwards, for as long as I am permitted to do so."
"It is not wise," her kin urged her anxiously. "This child is meant to be immortal, and not one of us. You will only confuse him and make his separation harder - it will bring misfortune on your family. Think of your remaining son!"
"Both sons are remaining," she replied, with firmness. "And while I will accept his loss, I will not mourn my eldest son until he is indeed lost. They will both be raised with all the love I can give him."
And with those last words and with both children in tow, Isleen and Blaine moved their family away from the suspicious villagers and out into the wilderness to raise their sons on love and acceptance and stories from outside until the time came to at last say goodbye.
Patrick waited for a minute after Alex stopped speaking - just in case it was a pause. It wasn't, apparently. "You were those twins?" It wasn't so much a question as his seeking confirmation on something he was fairly sure was true.
"That's right." Marc nodded in response. He smiled a little, with a different sort of wistful air that time. "Mother was so fond of father's stories. That's where our names came from - Marcus Aurelius and Alexander the Great, you remember. Father couldn't say no to anything she asked."
"And… then, when you were sixteen…?" He left that unfinished, glancing back and for the between them.
"Then I was taken," Marc finished, simply.
"He let himself get taken." Alex's voice was sharp; there was a kind of anger in his eyes, and he kept them carefully directed at the fire. "He, and mother, and father, they were all alike - it was going to happen, this is how it is, we have to accept it. No one tried to do anything about it. It was like they didn't care!"
"You know that's not true," his brother said, in a very low voice.
"It doesn't matter if it's true! That's how you were acting!" Alex's face twisted, and then he scowled, turning his eyes up toward Patrick almost accusingly. "They wouldn't have done anything about it, so I went by myself to get him back. I tricked my way in and snuck him out, and it's my right to say I won. But no one else plays by the rules, so - "
"Alex," Marc said, gently, and the younger boy sank down a bit more, staring broodily at the fire. "It's like Etain said - because there's such a strong claim on me, there's nothing anyone can do right now to let me wander around this world without the sorts of problems you've seen. It's not the doing of her people - just the way things are."
"There is a way to undo it," Alex muttered, darkly. "They probably know. They just aren't saying anything, because they want things their way."
The blond lowered his eyes. "That is possible," he said, very quietly.
"It's bang on, and you know it."
Marc was characteristically silent in response.
Alex hmphed and turned his eyes on Patrick, expectantly. "Now you know the whole story, so there should be no confusion, right? If you have questions, let's clear them up now and get on with it."
"I don't think I do." Patrick said the words slowly, feeling oddly reluctant. He felt his first reaction to the story was somehow right, despite Alex's argument. "I'll still help you, like I said I would. But" - he braced himself for a reaction to the rest - "I think Marc is right."
Alex's jaw dropped.
Marc looked up quickly, eyes going a bit wide as if he wasn't sure he'd heard right. "What?"
"Well. Maybe not completely." Patrick forced himself to look at Alex, who was staring back at him with disbelief in his eyes. "I mean, I know it's not right that the man who ruled your village forced that on you. And maybe it's not fair that he should've been stolen away. But once he's… you know. Claimed. Then you kind of have to admit that you're really just hurting him, for no good reason."
"No…" Alex choked a little on that; his expression was devastated. "No good reason?" he repeated, as if he couldn't believe the words had just been spoken. "How can you say that?"
Marc sucked in a low breath, glancing uneasily to the side.
Thanks for the support. Patrick licked his lips, and went on. "From what I've seen, you're fighting a losing battle, aren't you?" He didn't wait for an answer, rushing on with his words. "Everything you've come across has told you that what you're doing is impossible, but you won't believe it. You've lost your parents because of it, Marc's in an unstable condition now, and the two people he cares for most are at each other's throats over it. People are miserable because of - "
"Because of what?" Alex jumped to his feet, hands clenching into fists as he leaned forward and glared across the fire, eyes suspiciously shiny and expression that of someone who'd just been betrayed. "Because I want to save my brother more than anything? Because I'm still trying, even though it's tough and it seems impossible? It's worth it! How can you not understand that?"
"I do understand," Patrick protested, and tried to find a better way to put things. Somehow, his words weren't coming out the way he wanted them to. "Just… think about it. The one you're hurting the most is the person you're trying to help. Is that worth it?"
Alex opened his mouth, and then shut it. His eyes were angry, desperate, and utterly, completely trapped. He stared at Patrick with helpless fury for a moment longer, and then his face twisted. "I hate you," he hissed, fervently, and spun abruptly to stalk off toward the trees.
"Alex!" Marc sounded a bit alarmed.
"I'm getting firewood," the younger boy shot back, voice clipped. It sounded suspiciously foggy, too - he picked up his pace a little and almost ran forward to disappear into the darkness.
Patrick let out the breath he'd been holding, slowly, and stared down at his hands. God. That didn't go over well at all.
Not that he'd really expected it to, but… it stung.
"I hate you."
Stung a lot. More than he wanted to admit.
Across from him, Marc sighed. "He needs to cool down," the blond commented, deliberately ignoring the previous conversation. "Let him have a couple of hours to himself."
Patrick wasn't so willing to let it slide. "I said the wrong thing, didn't I?"
"Of course," Marc shrugged, without much expression, "but you knew that when you said it, didn't you?"
That was probably true. "I guess."
There was a poignant silence.
Marc leaned over and retrieved Alex's stick to poke at the fire. "You know…" He said the words almost pensively, pausing a little afterward, as if debating with the words that came next. "You're a good person, Patrick."
"Um. Thanks." He ducked his head, a bit embarrassed.
The blond smiled a bit, looking vague again. "And I know you care a lot about my brother. That's why you said what you did." He raised his head, but his eyes had that odd sense of staring off into the distance even while focussed on one specific thing. "You want him to see things the way you do."
Patrick shrugged, feeling awkward and unsure - and definitely not happy. "I was right, though, wasn't I?"
"Most likely, but that's not the point." Marc shook his head, looking rueful. "At least you two won't get bored. You might drive each other insane, but you won't be bored with the company along the way."
The older boy frowned. "What does that mean?"
"It means you're both incredibly stubborn, and you cling to your ideas like they're some kind of salvation." The older twin looked partly amused and partly exasperated. "Your specific problem is that you can't resist correcting someone if you think they're wrong. That won't work with Alex."
That was going to cause problems, Patrick reflected ruefully. Probably nothing major, but he'd have to work on it all the same. "What should I do?"
Marc spread his hands helplessly. "If I knew, I'd do it myself." He turned his gaze away. "Pretending not to disagree hasn't helped me, really."
It was hard not to feel sorry for him. Patrick pushed aside his thoughts about Alex for a moment, watching the older twin instead. "Has anyone ever asked what you'd like to see happen?"
"I'd think it would be obvious." The slight laugh that came with that didn't have much humor to it. "I'd like a world where I could marry Etain and still see Alex every day. I don't want to lose my brother or my lover, but it doesn't matter what I want. This is how it is, now."
There was a sort of heartbreaking quality to that calm acceptance. Patrick swallowed around a lump rising in his throat. "If you had to choose," he went on, determined to get an answer. "Etain or Alex, that world or this one. Which would you go with?"
Marc pulled his knees up, wrapping his arms around them and resting his forehead on the top so that the top of his head was the only thing visible. "I don't know," he said, so quietly that it was almost inaudible. "I never thought I'd get a choice."
Patrick really didn't know what to say to that, so he kept quiet.
"Well." Marc suddenly raised his head, smile back in place, with just the barest hint of sadness left over in it. "Alex won't be back for quite a while, so why don't we try to get some sleep while we're waiting, hm?"
The older boy smiled back, without really feeling it. "I don't know if I'll get any sleep tonight at all."