There are no trees in Manhattan like the ones she dreams of. Certainly, there are trees, lovely ones even, especially in Central Park. But they don’t whisper like the ones in her dreams do. The trees she sees when she sleeps are grey and foggy and whisper to her in ancient Welsh. Their leaves rustle with secrets and their bark is sharp enough to cut her hand.
But she doesn’t dream of blood. As strange as her dreams are, as full of secrets, there is no danger.
Not like there is in New York. Her chosen home zings with the faintest undercurrent of danger, of busy roads with reckless drivers and bars that she perhaps should not venture into alone. But here, where she spends her waking days, there is no singing water, either. The city is bordered by water, she knows that, but it is not like the water in her dreams. It holds no mysteries, no powers, no voices.
Wryly, she decides to blame that on pollution.
But she doesn’t know what to blame the dreams on.
Her university classes, a selection of literature and history ones, with a dash of biology thrown in, because she thinks it's as important to understand the story as the science of life, are wonderful, and fill up a great deal of her time. The hours she has left are dedicated to long walks and slow daydreams and real dreams at night… or in a nice long soak of a bath.
Water always makes her feel better. More at home. But she tells her parents, when they call, that she’s home anywhere. Everywhere. She wants to travel the world.
But she only dreams of a foggy memory of a quiet town in Wales.
The memories aren’t supposed to come back. She knows that. She also knows they’re memories, not dreams. Her brothers would tell her they were dreams, if she told them.
If she talked to them much, these days.
But she’s away at university and it’s so hard to talk to her family. Even if one took away the differences in time zone, the giant gaping width of the Atlantic, the culture differences between here, in the city that never sleeps, and there, in their quietly dozing cottage, she still isn’t sure she’d be able to find the words to say to them. The words started drying up, after that summer in Wales. After those memories she can’t quite remember. But instead of memories, she’d inherited a sense of being too big for her skin, too alive for her small town. Too much, in too small a place.
In New York City, she’s found life. Wild and vivid and real. It is unlike home, and yet, it’s her home now. No one is too much for New York. It welcomes all, and it ignores all, and so, she’s free to dream.
The Met is pay-what-you-can, and she always tries to ensure she’s not skimping on that can but there’s also the matter of notebooks and ramen and the occasional cheap bottle of wine, so usually her can is only a dollar.
But the woman who seems to always be there, by the donation box, watching her with bright green eyes and an oddly ageless face just nods and smiles. “Welcome home,” she always says, which makes so little sense to Jane, and yet, is everything she needs to hear.
What Jane doesn’t notice is that the woman never calls her the same name twice.
Today, she was Juno.
Her favorite thing about the Met is how vast it is. She slips through time periods the way she used to walk around trees in the forest. The forest, the town, the time she can’t remember. Her least favorite thing about the Met is that she has no one to share it with, beyond her notebook.
She used to have friends, she knows. She… she has friends. They’re just away. They’ve been away, for so long. But New York is full of friends, of possibilities, of strangers. She tells herself she’ll find new friends. And they’ll be just as good as the old ones.
Sometimes a thought makes her skin prickle. Like that. Old Ones. Old friends? Why did that make her feel like… oh what was that strange old saying? Like someone had walked over her grave. Strange old sayings, strange old truths.
Nothing is stranger than life, though. Today, in a quiet corner of the Met, she finds a tapestry, one that she’s quite sure hadn’t been there yesterday, and one that a little whisper in her ear suggest won’t be there tomorrow. It belongs somewhere else. Jane, sometimes, belongs somewhere else too.
But for now, she looks up at the sweeping work of art. The unicorn sits inside of a small fence, one that it could clear easily. One that it chooses not to. It’s in captivity by choice, not by force. She knows the feeling. She knows they are memories, not dreams, but she knows if they are memories then she is not who she thought she was. But who is she? She's a New Yorker now, she tells herself. Famous for their practicality, their no-nonsense approach, their reality. She is a student of literature, but one of science too.
The Unicorn could leave, if it wanted to. Only choice keeps it there.
“That one is my favorite, too.” A voice says softly. A young man approaches, nods at her. She stares at him. For a moment, she’d thought… but no. People don’t wear crowns anymore. Not even in New York. He notices her staring at him, and offers his hand. “I’m Bran.” His eyes are bright, clear, so strange and so... familiar.
“Jane.” It's a name. It's her name. The others don't matter.
His hand is warm in hers, warm like the memory of summer sunlight. Warm like a stone by the hearth. Warm like the flickering lights of a past she can't quite remember. “Do you have time for a cup of coffee?”
“I… I do, actually.” Class? Did she have class? No, not today.
“Wonderful. My friend and I have been meaning to reach out.”
“Reach out?” she looks up at the unicorn, trapped by such a tiny cage. It would take so little effort to be free, and yet… and yet…
They are not dreams. They are memories.
She wants to remember.
“Isn’t that what friends do?” Bran offers a hand to her, and when she takes it, it feels like the bark of the tree and the cold of the water and all the whispers of the world. More than New York. More than home. More than all that she remembers occuring in her past.
There is magic yet in the world.