Threads of Fate
Insomnia turned out to be a false prediction - and Patrick was never sure afterward if it was because he was that tired or because he needed to be asleep, in order to dream. But either way, he didn't lie on the ground long with his blanket, staring at the fire, before his eyelids dragged down and he was gone from the waking world.
And he dreamed…
He was walking through the trees. Earlier, he'd been running, but it didn't matter so much now that he was in the darkness. They couldn't see him any more - it was okay to look upset, to act childish or sentimental. He could swipe at his eyes when they threatened to tear up, clench his fists, strike out at the underbrush viciously if it got in his way.
Supposedly, he was out there looking for something, but he didn't really care enough to find it.
He was angry. More than angry, really - he was hurt, betrayed, put down again. Somehow it always turned out this way - they banded against him, telling him he was stupid, he should give up, he was childish. Everyone around him grasped the situation so easily, and of course they knew better.
He felt like such a child.
And he hated that more than anything.
Patrick felt disoriented for a moment - floating outside as if disconnected from a body of any sort. There was a warm darkness around him, enveloping him as if to reassure. For just that one instant, he hovered there.
And then the world shifted again.
He'd been distracted - all he could think about was what was behind him. Brother. Lover. Brother. Lover. The words went through his head again and again, pictures going along with them, even voices. He could see their faces, both of them calm, hear them telling him he was wrong. Not just wrong - irrational.
He didn't know anything. Not what was best for his brother. Not what would make his love take him seriously. Nothing.
There was a sound like singing, and something in his mind was urging him to pay attention, but somehow… he just couldn't.
He was full of confusion, and feelings, and hurt, and he didn't know how to make it settle.
Another moment of disorientation - and there was an urgency there, like something had to be done. He had to hurry. This had to be over quickly; he had to be somewhere, had to get up. Patrick could almost feel himself sleeping, but he couldn't get there. Somehow, his own body was unavailable.
And when he tried to, all he ended up doing was sinking back into the wrong place.
He couldn't remember how he'd gotten there. Something to do with the music? Was there music? He thought he heard music. There was even something significant about it, but somehow, his mind wouldn't focus on that. He'd been upset about something… something…
Whatever it was, he couldn't remember. It didn't seem important now.
There were flowers in front of him. For a moment, he wasn't sure what that meant - then he realized he was crouching down, hands on the ground in front of him as he watched them move in the wind. They were easy to see - the moon was full, and the trees were open, and they shifted and moved and almost seemed to make sound.
Maybe they were making the music…
There was something he needed to remember about music.
Momentarily shrugging off that lethargic feeling, he looked up and around. The music got louder, and he absently moved a hand along with it, eyes half lidded. Around him, the grass was light - except for a ring of dark grass that encircled the flowers.
There was a moment of complete, all-encompassing panic before the music rose up, overwhelming, and his body and mind were lost to it.
Patrick woke up with a jolt, eyes shooting open as he was suddenly and forcefully pitched back into his own body. For a moment, he couldn't quite connect the experience of waking with what he'd just felt in his dream - he just lay there, staring up at the sky, eyes a bit too wide, breathing hard.
And that sent him shoving away his blankets, jerking to his feet and stumbling a bit as the covers caught on his feet in his haste. Oh god… What the hell was that?
It had been Alex. He'd been in Alex's head.
Somehow, he got the feeling it wasn't imagined. And… Jesus, I couldn't take the chance! How he felt at the end…
Unreasoning terror. Something had happened. Something was wrong.
"Uh…?" Marc sat up, blinking at him blurrily. "Wha…?"
"Alex," Patrick said, voice cracking, and didn’t wait for him to make the connection. Almost running by then, he strode in past the trees, letting the darkness swallow him.
"Alex?" Marc was behind him less than twenty seconds later, sounding alarmed. "What's happened? Did - ?" He stopped talking, and sucked in a sharp breath.
It was obvious why - that same music that had been playing in the background while Patrick had sat through Alex's thoughts. It was eerie - unearthly. Like Marc. Like Etain. Strains of sidhe entrapment sifting through the trees.
Patrick quickened his pace.
"You saw something." It wasn't a question. Marc kept pace with him well; his voice was hard as he went on. "What happened to my brother?"
"I don't know." It was amazing how strained he sounded - although it probably shouldn't have been considering the circumstances. "I didn't see that much. I saw a ring of dark grass - he was inside it. He didn't realize until after he started thinking about the music." Patrick grimaced. "He was distracted."
"Understandable. And typical." There was a certain abstract, clipped quality to Marc's voice - it didn't seem to suit the moment. Too analytical, not emotional enough. "Alex is usually very careful, but if they saw a chance, naturally they'd take it. The ring of grass is a faerie circle - it's not a good idea to go inside one, especially on a full moon."
Patrick nodded. He'd gathered that much already, but it was good to get confirmation. The music was getting louder; he sped up again, growing more worried by every minute that went by without them finding Alex. "What do we do?"
Marc's reply was typically unhelpful. "We'll see when we get there."
The music was clear and bright when they got there - matching the moon, which cast a soft glow through the trees to the clearing where Alex had somehow wandered over and knelt by the flowers. It was as if someone had set up a floor, with lights overhead to brighten it up - but everything was natural rather than manufactured, beautiful to a degree that didn't seem quite human any more.
And it probably wasn't.
Patrick stopped in his tracks when he came through the trees, with Marc a few steps behind him. For a moment, both of them just stared, without saying a word.
In the middle of the clearing, with his eyes shut and his expression trace-like, Alex was dancing.
Guys dancing were hardly ever graceful without being either professional or looking stupid, Patrick had found. Sometimes it was painful to watch - sometimes it made him laugh, or snicker into his drink, or just smirk and turn away. This was something completely different - the music was unfamiliar, the dance was unfamiliar, and something about it…
Alex danced. His arms swung, motions in control as much as they were out of his control. His legs spun him around, with his eyes shut, his mouth a bit open, a dreamy sort of smile tilting it up. He didn't look right in the head, but it wasn't creepy - it was… strange.
Unearthly. Beautiful. Frightening. Entrancing.
Patrick sucked in a long breath. For a moment, he'd forgotten his need for air. Something was telling him to be afraid - there was danger here, it wasn't a good time to relax. But he couldn't take his eyes away. It wasn't like Alex - but it was. Like him. But… not.
There was something irresistible about it; it made his heart pounding, his throat ache. He had to swallow hard, and it didn't do much good.
"Shouldn't have moved with it," Marc murmured behind him, somehow adding to the atmosphere rather than breaking it. "Dancing… they could keep you at it forever, Alex; what were you thinking?"
From somewhere at the back of his mind, Patrick heard Alex's voice coming back to him. "If you dance to sidhe music, it hypnotizes you - you can end up dancing yourself to death."
Panic seized him completely at that point; involuntarily, Patrick took a step forward, barely conscious of the line of dark grass dangerously close to where he was standing. "Alex…" His voice came out as barely a gasp.
And, unlike Marc's, it was enough to interrupt the moment.
Alex spun to face him, and his eyes slid open, with a hazy kind of slowness. The sleepy smile on his face grew; his eyes were dazed, hypnotized. He reached out with one hand, palm up, as if inviting Patrick to step up and fill the place of an absent dance partner.
He wanted to stumble back. He wanted to step forward. Caught between those two emotions, with fear clogging up his throat and fascination keeping his eyes pinned, Patrick froze, immobile. He tried to say Alex's name again, but somehow he didn't seem capable of producing sound.
The smile on the younger boy's face faltered a bit, and, once again caught by compulsion, he swung back into the dance for a moment, like a rag doll being pushed around by the force of the music. Then he spun around again and held both hands out to Patrick, as if in supplication. The smile was smaller; his eyes were pleading. He remained quiet.
"You'd better dance with him," Marc said, very softly.
Patrick couldn't look at him, but he found his voice somehow. "How… I… It's - isn't it…?"
"Dangerous? Yes." The blond twin didn't seem capable of putting emotion into the words; his voice was almost indifferent. "There isn't much choice."
Alex spun around again, looking almost pained now as he danced, smile gone, face twisting a bit. His eyes were desperate as he stopped again, reaching out towards Patrick as if to grasp at salvation.
Patrick stared back, his entire body screaming at him to do something - to help him, make it end. "Alex…"
"He needs you," Marc went on, still in that soft, steady tone, "to dance with him."
That was enough. Taking that last fatal step forward, Patrick moved to grasp back at the younger boy's reaching hands. He didn't know how to dance - but then, somehow, he did. Taking Alex into his arms, somehow it was possible to let the music lead him into the dance, swirling his partner in the moon-drenched circle as if he'd done it all his life and no longer needed to think about it.
He felt… light. Free. It was a wonderful feeling.
What is this?
Alex smiled up at him dreamily. He didn't seem to comprehend much of what was going on, but the little he understood obviously included Patrick. There was a certain amount of trust in that smile - as if the fact that the older boy was there was enough to assure him that everything would be all right, no matter what he was missing.
It wasn't helping with the lump in Patrick's throat.
And I told him he was wrong. I hurt him. He remembered the emotions from the first time he'd been in Alex's head during the dream. When he was awake, he wouldn't be glad to see Patrick at all.
The light around him was dim - just moonlight. But somehow it was dazzling. Patrick kept his eyes on Alex, overwhelmed for a moment by the brightness - and then suddenly they weren't alone in the clearing any more.
There were people around them - inhuman people, like Etain. In strange clothing, dancing that strangely graceful dance, or standing to the side and watching with strange little smiles. There was something enchanting about the whole business, and he had to fight to keep his head clear, holding onto Alex tightly as he danced around them, without managing to jostle anyone. He would've sworn the clearing wasn't big enough for this many people, but somehow, it was - and easily, too.
What is this?
The second time he'd asked that in less than five minutes.
There was a tap on his shoulder, and he looked around a bit wildly to face the smiling face of a lovely young lady. "Can I cut in?" she asked, a bit of a mischievous lilt to her voice. No malice, but…
"I - no." Patrick clutched Alex even tighter, afraid that if he lost his grip, he'd lose the younger boy to the crowd. "You can't - "
"Never mind," a familiar voice cut in, and Patrick turned again, quickly, to see Etain behind him, with Marc hovering a short ways behind her. The redhead looked amused. "He is not used to our ways - you would do better to choose someone more familiar."
The girl pouted - then smiled again at Patrick, slyly, and slid away back into the crowd.
"If any other asks to separate you," Etain said, addressing Patrick seriously for a moment, "you are free to refuse. And it would be wise to do so." She turned, then, smoothly moving into Marc's arms - and the blond only had time to give him a quick, apologetic smile before the two of them whirled around into the sea of dancers.
"Wait - " It was useless. Patrick stared after them in frustration. Alex was stirring in his hold, restless, and he had to start dancing again, feeling completely helpless and not knowing how to gain control of the situation.
How do I help him? Always so strong before, the younger twin felt very vulnerable to him now - very small in his arms, despite being not that much different from him in physical size. As if he'd been diminished somehow.
Patrick didn't like that at all.
"Alex," he said, softly, and that set of hazy grey eyes slid up to meet his, immediately. He took in a slow breath, wondering how much of this the younger boy would remember when he was back to himself again.
If he came back to himself again.
He really didn't want to think about that. "I'm sorry," he mumbled out, wishing he could say something better. "I wanted to help, but I don't know what to do." Somehow, that seemed inadequate, too - he gave up and pulled Alex closer, bending his head down to bury his face in the younger boy's shoulder. "I'm so sorry."
The music stopped.
Patrick found himself suddenly in possession of a very limp Alex, who couldn't seem to stand on his own - and probably didn't care much, from the still-hazy eyes and the dreamy smile. He slumped against Patrick, hands clutching at his shoulders loosely.
The clearing was emptying fast, and the outside edge of the ring was gaining more faeries. Patrick spotted Marc and Etain - standing side by side, and somewhat diffident in posture. What's happening now? He opened his mouth to ask.
And never got the chance.
In front of him, the crowd parted, and a tall, red-haired man dressed majestically and impressively in black with a slight, impish smile on his youthful-looking face stepped into the clearing. Something about the sense of his presence was almost overpowering - Patrick realized he was holding his breath, and let it out, slowly. Whoever the guy was, he had to be important - he definitely felt important, anyway.
His dark eyes fell on Etain first, and the smile softened slightly. "Etain," he said, in a deceptively low voice. "Dearest one, how does your evening suit you?"
She inclined her head, respectfully. "Very well, father. Very well."
"I am delighted to hear it." He looked up toward Patrick then, and the boy felt something clench in his stomach. Every nerve was screaming at him to bolt, but he stood where he was, hands fisting in Alex's shirt. "And you? I have seen the one in your arms many a time, and not on happy occasions, but I have no recollection of having met you before."
"We haven't met," Patrick answered, shortly, and took in a long, slow breath, trying to calm the rapid beating of his heart. He would see this through, whether he was capable of doing anything to help or not.
"Indeed." The man smiled slightly, almost calculatingly, eyeing Patrick with interest. "I am Midhir of the Bri Leith, ruler of the Tuatha de Danann." His eyes narrowed slightly, although the smile didn't falter at all - there was a bit of a dangerous edge to the sense of him accompanying it. "I would have your name and your purpose in seeking us out, and you would be wise to give them quick, for the ground on which you stand is ours."
Patrick had to take in another long breath, swallow hard, and draw up his shoulders, shifting Alex a bit as he did, before he felt ready to answer. "My name is Patrick Graham. I didn't seek you out - I just came onto your ground for Alex. That's all."
The smile grew the slightest bit. "I see." Midhir turned and waved an arm around, expansively. "And do you enjoy your evening of revelry, safe in the hospitality of those of our kind?"
Something told him - very, very firmly - that it was not a good idea to offend this guy. Patrick swallowed again. "It's okay," he said, quickly. "Sure."
Beside Etain, he saw Marc raise up a hand to cover his smile.
"'Okay'," Midhir repeated, seemingly amused by this response. He tilted his head at Patrick. "Well, then, you may continue to enjoy it, with no fear of any hostility or ill intent, so long as your own intentions remain pure." Obviously, the question of pure intentions had been a problem in the past - there seemed to be a certain emphasis on that part of the offer.
Patrick wasn't fooled - feeling braver, he added, "Alex, too?"
"Of course, yes." The King waved a tolerant hand, still smiling indulgently. "Though it was clever of you to ask. I suppose our reputation proceeds us?"
"Uh. Sort of." It was probably better not to go into how exactly he'd learned about them.
"That will do, then." And Midhir turned away from him, seemingly losing all interest.
Patrick let out a breath, feeling as if a weight had lifted from his shoulders. In his arms, Alex was very still, but he was comforted by the steady breathing against his neck. The younger boy still felt warm and alive, and the reality of his safety helped to keep Patrick grounded. They could make it out okay. That was the important thing.
Midhir, however, had turned towards Marc - and his expression was far more predatory than it had been when he faced Patrick. "Our lost little stolen child," he greeted the boy, with a single step forward. Several people in the crowd tittered a bit, nervously.
Marc inclined his head just a little, gravely.
Alex, Patrick knew, would have been immediately on the defense at this point - keeping himself between his brother and this enemy, scowling, glaring, doing his best to protect. The knowledge that he was unable to do any of it - slumped in Patrick's arms with little or no conscious thought on the situation - settled in the older boy's stomach in a guilty lump, making him feel almost queasy.
It's my fault he can't, isn't it? If something happens to Marc now…
He wasn't sure if Alex would forgive him.
But what can I do about it? The helplessness of his situation made him want to hit something.
"Father," Etain said suddenly, clearly. Her tone was a warning one; she stepped in front of Marc as if to shield him, expression resolute. "Draw your promise to mind for me, please."
Promise? Patrick blinked. This was the first he'd heard of this…
"Of course, dearest one." Midhir backed away smoothly, casting a smile around for the furiously whispering crowd surrounding them. "The situation calls for courtesy, and we, at least, will make the effort to be courteous." There was a bit of a flicker of his gaze to Alex's prone form as he said it - not obvious, but Patrick noticed.
Unconsciously, his grip on the younger boy tightened.
"Etain had warned you there was a choice to be made?" That question was directed at Marc. "I don’t imagine it will surprise you to be asked. It has been five seasons and more since the moment when you so scorned our hospitality, and the time has come to present you with your options once more." Midhir paused, narrowing a dangerous look around at those who continued to chatter, and then went on. "It will fall to you, and you alone, to decide your own fate. Is that understood?"
"Perfectly," Marc replied, voice distant but unhesitant.
"Then I shall elaborate, and this stage will come to a swift close." The Faerie King was no longer smiling; his face was serious and cold as he regarded the boy in front of him. For the first time, Patrick found himself willing to believe that this illusive figure was impartial and inexorable enough to make a truly great ruler. "Your condition worsens as the years pass - slowly but in a steady progression. There are cracks between this world and that - cracks through which you will continue to slip and fall, until your mind is lost to both worlds alike. If you so choose, that will be your fate." He paused.
Marc didn't move or react in any way.
Midhir continued to watch him, his clothing drawn about him almost as an extension of the shadows from the trees. "Accept the claim to your soul, and join us in the world you were born for," he added, voice somehow carrying without being overly loud. "And you will spare yourself this agony. There is no other way that is within our power to offer to you. Choose."
Patrick looked anxious over at Marc. The blond didn't seem to have been impressed with the impact of those words - he still stared back impassively, unsmiling, as if nothing important had been said.
What's he going to do now? There didn't seem to be a way out…
After a moment of silence, the older twin did speak, voice free of any sort of emotion. "You've put the one person I would ask to make that decision for me out of consciousness."
"We have," Midhir acknowledged, without a hint of remorse.
Marc sighed. "Then I have no choice," he said, and suddenly smiled, brilliantly. "I will have to ask Patrick to decide for me instead."
Etain spun around to face him, startled.
Patrick stared. Wha… but… me? Me? He'd only met Marc a few days ago - how could he be expected to stand in for a brother who'd been there all his life? Why would Marc want to trust his fate to someone who'd only just fully understood the situation that night? He expected Patrick to decide if he stayed and lost his mind or went and left his twin behind?
What kind of sense did that make?
The Faerie King looked a bit taken aback - but it took him only a moment to regain his composure. "Very well," he agreed, and turned that cold, narrow-eyed gaze on Patrick instead. "And what has this mortal boy to say on the matter?"
Oh boy… Patrick could feel the attention shifting - every eye was probably on him by then. There was complete silence as he licked his lips, nervously. He could feel his heart pounding; the heat of Alex's body against his was suddenly stifling. He'd never been asked to make a decision this important before in his life.
What am I supposed to say?
If he chose one option, they'd lose Marc, and Alex would be devastated. But if he chose the other… then they couldn't save Marc anyway; and he'd suffer more for it.
There didn't seem to be a way out.
Except… Patrick concentrated on breathing slowly, not letting himself get excited. What was he doing now? Thinking like himself. Of course, it made sense - only two options, and he had to pick one. But what good had thinking like himself done him? He'd been confused the whole way, hurt Alex's feelings, refused to see what was going on in terms of what it really meant.
Thinking like himself had gotten him to this point.
But he wasn't going to get out of it unless he started thinking like someone else.
What would Alex say?
He wouldn't accept the inevitable. Patrick frowned a bit, shifting ever so slightly as he tried to picture the younger boy's reaction to the ultimatum. He would glare and draw himself up, and demand to know -
That was it.
"Okay." Patrick squared his shoulders, confident now that he was doing the right thing, even if it didn't actually help him. "Before I answer, and I want you to be honest… tell me something." He didn't let anyone interrupt him before rushing right into, "Is there anyone or anything that might have even a remote chance of getting Marc free from those claims so that he could live here?"
The whispering started up again, with a vengeance. Patrick could almost hear some of the words - 'unheard of', and 'the nerve', and such other things. He kept his eyes on the Faerie King, who stared back at him, gaze still and cold. Behind him, Marc watched with wide eyes and Etain's fingers clenched in her skirt, her face pained.
I'm sorry, he apologized to them, silently. They were important - of course they were. But more important than anything else was Alex, and Patrick was determined not to fail him.
I'll do my best. I promise.
"What difference," Midhir began, voice even more chilled than it had been, "would that information have on your decision, for here and now?"
Patrick did his best to calm his nerves, despite the fear creeping up his spine instinctively in response to the obvious displeasure growing around the figure in front of him. "Answer me first, and I'll explain."
For a moment, that ultimatum hung in the air.
Then Midhir spoke again, and his tone held no more or no less chill than it had before. "I know of but one possibility," he said, and there were gasps from the crowd. "It is not much more than a fool's hope - but there is one other who may have the knowledge or power."
Marc's mouth fell open, but he didn't make a sound. In front of him, Etain looked as if someone had smacked her with the flat end of a board.
This is it… Patrick drew in another breath, feeling more confident due to his success. "In that case," he said, shifting Alex again, "tell us what that possibility is, and let us see if it can help. Then ask me to choose, after that."
That did it. Conversation erupted around them - indignant voices, angry voices, astonished voices. The only people not talking, it seemed, were the five at the center of the commotion.
Midhir seemed to lose patience then. "Silence!" he commanded, in a voice like a thunder clap, glaring around darkly. Patrick flinched back instinctively, alarmed by the change in the atmosphere.
The clearing went completely quiet in less than a second.
"Do you think," the Faerie King began, deceptively calm as he paced a little to the side like a restless cat, eyeing Patrick all the while, "that we should be under obligation to offer such aide, in a situation of these children's own imposition?" His eyes glittered, almost wickedly, and Patrick was eerily reminded of the Huntress back in his first encounter with these people. "Why should we make it easier to escape our claim?"
"You were the one who said it was a choice." Patrick's voice cracked a bit. He was afraid - terribly so - but he made the effort to ignore it. "Those are the conditions I want. Make it a real choice."
No other sound broke the silence. Everyone was watching, but no one spoke.
This is a little intense… Patrick resisted the urge to squirm, keeping his eyes on his opponent.
For a moment, Midhir seemed to loom ominously, a dangerous aura building around him. His eyes shone with unholy light; his expression contorted, eyebrows dipping. He grew in size without becoming physically taller - an imposing presence with a definite air of menace about it.
And then, out of nowhere, he began to laugh.
Patrick was not comforted - in fact, he was a little creeped out. Is he insane? He had to fight with his instincts to keep from cringing back. Did I do that?
Not good. Driving their king off his rocker probably wouldn't endear him to the pack of faeries surrounding him. Great…
Midhir subsided into chuckles after a moment or two, ignoring the muttering going on around him and the fact that his daughter was staring at him as if he'd sprouted another head. "I always enjoy it," he said, in a considerably more amiable tone, "when one of your kind manages to get the better of an offered deal."
Etain recovered; blinking, she reached out hesitantly. "Father…"
"Never mind it." The impish smile was back on his face, directed still at Patrick. "I enjoy a challenge - it heightens the excitement to have a doubtful outcome ahead for such a decision. Very well!" At that point he straightened again and seemed to address the entire crowd. "I will accept these terms."
The outburst in response to that put the one before it to shame. Some of the figures making cries of protest actually looked outraged at this. There was shouting, ranting, red angry faces, expressions of chagrin… Patrick had to keep his eyes fixed anywhere but at the crowd; the reactions made him more than a little nervous.
Must be a sensitive subject.
Midhir let this go on for a short while, smiling to himself as if in enjoyment of some private joke, and then looked up, suddenly, and raised his hand in an imperious gesture.
Once again, silence fell instantly.
"We will expel you from this court tonight," the Faerie King declared, watching Patrick closely as he spoke. "And I will have my daughter return to inform you of your piece of chance information at a later date. In the meantime, travel quickly to the city called Portmarnock, and abide there until word is sent."
"Portmarnock," Marc repeated, almost wonderingly, as if thinking to himself out loud. He looked a little dazed by the whole business.
"Precisely so, and as quickly as you can." Midhir smiled briefly at him, and then turned towards Patrick again. "You, I do not think I will meet again. But I can imagine your choice will be the correct one."
Patrick wasn't sure what to say to that, so he kept quiet.
"Off then, my kin!" And the King laughed again, the light of the moon growing around him as he did in stark contrast to his dark clothing - so brightly that Patrick had to shut his eyes for fear of being blinded.
When he opened them again, the clearing was small and deserted once more, and only he and Marc stood there, with Alex's comatose form and the echoes of Midhir's laughter fading in the air around them.