September 2002
Thanks to the Gunbunny for beta reading.
Spoilers for all books in The Dark Is Rising series. Various pairings, slash and het.

This story is not to be archived without permission.

Bright Hair

It felt like an age since she'd been home.

Work had kept her busy, one assignment after another. So easy to lose oneself, Jane thought, now in Prague and next in Vienna, hotel room after hotel room. It did no good for a travel writer to wander for too long. Her skill lay in teasing out the details, the minutiae of difference: a certain sharpness of observation that became blurred and muted with overexposure to the new, day after day after day.

Being on the move was all very well, but what she needed now was a lodestone, an anchor. A concrete somewhere against which to measure change. Home. London. Here, where the clouds moving before the sun could shape the sky as they did in no other city, no other place.

Lost in these pleasant abstractions, Jane was completely unprepared for the collision.

The impact shuddered through her body's bones, a resonance akin to a bell being struck by a gong. In complementary fashion she banged her elbow, hard, against a lamppost. And to top off the scene, her purse fell out of her bag and coughed up coins all over the pavement. Tinkle, tinkle, tinkle...

"I'm sorry-"

"I didn't see-"

"Let me help you-"

Both she and the man she had cannoned into - she was dimly aware of long legs, frayed jean-cuffs, and a battered guitar case - muttered the usual formulaic apologies as they scrambled around on their hands and knees, gathering loose change and trying to avoid the crushingly impatient feet of the bypassers. They squatted by the side of the footpath, flushed and embarrassed, and he put a handful of coins into her palm.

"Oh, thankyou," Jane said, looking up with an automatic smile -- and was lost in the shock of recognition. She heard herself gasp as he pulled off dark glasses; tawny eyes blinked.

"Jane Drew?" he asked wonderingly. "Jenny?"

She spoke in the same moment. "Bran, is that you?"

His fingers folded over hers. The pennies warmed in their mutual grasp.

* * *

They wandered through the throng as though they were alone and new in the world. Past candy-bright shop windows and sternly mercantile facades they strolled, chatting of inconsequentials. The space between them measured the width of two hands, and on their shoulders were the shadows of birds.

Bran listened to the words with half an ear, busy listening to the voice that said it and the face that looked back at his so intently. He watched the woman beside him, remembering that distant summer and a pretty girl in the mountains of Wales. Calmer now, with a quiet self-assurance, but the clear-eyed gaze and the line of concern over her brow remained. Always worried, this one, for her brothers or for Merriman, and once or twice for him.

The worry-line particularly fascinated him; he caught himself making sure his hand stayed by his side, resisting the impulse to reach over and trace it, smooth it away with his thumb. Oh Jenny, don't frown, no - he wondered if it was a line from a song.

"You seemed in a hurry," Jane said after a while. "I hope you didn't have somewhere to get to..."

"No," he lied after only a split second pause and without a trace of visible guilt, "I mean, not really."

"Me neither." She smiled suddenly and he was glad of the lie. "Oh, wonderful. We've got heaps to catch up on. I'm so glad we ran into each other, aren't you?"

Bran smiled back. Slipped his hand into hers. "Yes."

Oh, Jenny. Perhaps the words were part of a song. He could write it for her.

* * *

Bran ran a hand distractedly through his colourless hair and shrugged impatiently. "I'm sorry," he said. "I just ran into someone... We lost track of time."

"But you should have called," Will said, knowing he was right and yet feeling he was in the wrong; knowing he was nagging and hating himself for it, even as Bran made an irritated sound and rolled his eyes skywards.

"Who was it?" Will asked with forced lightness, trying to smooth this over before it had a chance to grow into another fight. "Anyone I know?"

"Oh," Bran said, and paused. Fiddling with the glasses in the pocket of his leather jacket. "Just - just Jane Drew. Your cousin, remember?"

"Oh," Will echoed, his face blank. "Jane. I mean, of course I do. I saw her brother's exhibition, actually, last week." He tried and failed to catch Bran's gaze. "You could have brought her along. I'd have liked to see her again."


Bran slouched a little deeper in his seat. Will tapped his fingers. The clock ticked.

Abruptly Bran stood. "I should go." With an unconscious flick the shades were unfolded; the strangeness of the eyes abruptly dimmed behind the smoky glass. He picked up the ever-present guitar case and slung the strap over his shoulder.

"Oh," Will repeated stupidly. So you're not staying the night? He bit the words back, as always. "I - I'll see you tomorrow, then?"

"Maybe." Bran turned back briefly, framed by the doorway and so arresting to the eye that Will felt almost ready to forgive him. Always ready to forgive.

He was at that moment deeply and stupidly aware that they owed each other nothing, nothing at all. To Bran he was just a body to curl up against, on occasional and frosty nights. 'It's not about whether I'm gay or not,' Bran once said. 'You understand. We're old friends, you and me, we don't want to change that. It's just not serious between us, yeah?' And Will, wanting to take things slowly, had not disagreed. Thinking there would be time to talk it through later, later...

He felt sick to his stomach.

Perhaps something showed in his expression. Bran took two quick strides back into the room and bent down to Will's upturned face. Their mouths met briefly, intimate and familiar. Will resisted the fleeting urge to suck, to bite, to somehow hold on.

Pointless to do it, anyway.

But just one last try. "Call me, won't you?" He wished his voice were not so thinly plaintive.

Already Bran was leaving. "Bye, Will." The door slammed.

Alone now, Will sat at the kitchen table with a mug of tea cooling in his fist. He pressed his fingers to his lips.

Remembering touch. Wanting more.

Alone now in his tiny kitchen with its single light-bulb hanging overhead. Will leant back in his chair, screwing his eyes against the harsh white light and the sting of disappointment. He was granted, then, an unexpected glimpse.

Just one quick look, as though the future folded up like a telescope, a silent slideshow of one-week-six-months-three-years-ten-years ahead, burning bright and over in a second. A tumble of images, a sheaf of memories yet to come.

After, the bitter taste of knowledge unsought.

Will rose and went to the window. He drew back the blind with a finger, looking for that tall slim figure, that bright white hair - the beautiful raven boy, my careless love. Lanky legs and hands in pockets, stride on stride and going away from him forever.

Watching, his lips parted as though to say goodbye, but the call that rose up in him was silent so all that issued from his mouth was an exhaled and invisible breath.

* * *

Sometimes Will wakes up, the light from the window dazzling in his eyes, and he forgets. The warmth of the body beside him, sunlight glancing off pale hair and fair skin, these things deceive him because he wants to be deceived, and Will opens his mouth to say - Bran.

So far, he has always stopped in time.

It's natural yet strange to him that the warmth of Barney should feel identical to Bran's. He is convinced that in their sleep they breathe in the same deep rhythms, and he has been several times struck by the familiarity of the sensation evoked by the jut of Barney's hip beneath his hand.

Bran, Barney, Barney, Bran - shift the letters or lose a couple, and there is barely a difference at all. But, no, of course not. These are superficialities, he reminds himself, and nothing more.

He will always know the difference. He will always feel... the lack.

Will caught the thought with a shock. Lack? He has these artists' hands, this irrepressible youth, this ardent vigour, all to himself and himself only - but, no, he cannot deny that there is something missing.

He must never let Barney know.

* * *

Barney turned to the sheets and smothered his amusement in white cotton. Will had stubbed his toe on the easel in the corner, and was now forced to hop and silently curse for fear of waking him. Like a mime, Will clenched his fist and bit his lower lip in an unselfconscious parody of agony.

Now, Barney could sit up, yawn and bend and stretch, put an end to this little game. But it's not in his nature to be so straightforward. He likes to be the first to wake, and last to rise. He has always had a touch for artifice - before, as a boy with innocent wide eyes; and now, as a man with a ready smile.

His thoughts curl in on themselves. His paintings are replete with the spiral motif. Barney is proud of his self-sufficiency.

Lying still as a stone, Barney watched through a fringe of pale lashes as Will left the room, limping slightly. Soon the scent of coffee would fill the air and that Barney would take as his cue to get up. He has an uncanny ability, as all his lovers discover, to gauge the precise moment to enter the kitchen, usually after the coffee has been made but just before the toast is ready.

He demonstrated this skill a few minutes later, dropping a peck on Will's stubbled cheek and snagging a steaming mug simultaneously. "Morning," he yawned.

Will smiled as he sat down across the table. "Morning." His hair was tousled, his face eternally boyish and open. His expression was full of affection.

Poor Will, Barney thought with a rush of emotion so sudden he had to drop his eyes to hide it, he's so easy to read for a liar like me.

Of course Barney already knows. That he is loved not so much for being himself, but for his resemblance to another. Loved because he was there, in a Welsh summer he knows was important, though he's not sure he remembers why. Valued, not for himself innate, but rather for the bright hair and the willing lips that constitute both resemblance and reminder.

Only after, when Will has left the house, can Barney admit to himself how much that knowledge rankles. He has always been so sure of himself that this shadow-existence both excites his jealousy and wounds his pride to the quick.

He doesn't want this one to go the way of all the others. For once he would like to come home to those earnest eyes, not just wake up to them. He's already trying, in his own small way, to smooth the path. Does Will not realise how strange it is, that Barney should never once mention his sister or her lover? Does Will not see the studious tactfulness with which Barney avoids talk of the past, or broken relationships, or love?

Oh, very well, he thought disgustedly to himself. At least have the honesty to admit that you're afraid to ask.

So. He will be patient. He will not cling. He will say nothing of any significance whatsoever.

And he will wait for Will to notice.


[Rowan's Fanfiction]

Disclaimer: the Dark Is Rising series and its characters are entirely and utterly the property of Susan Cooper. This is a non-profit fanwork, completely unaffiliated and benign.