Bran would have sworn that Will managed to be unwell in some way or another half the times he saw him. He wasn’t impressed. It would be more bearable if he would at least be sensible and actually convalesce, instead of raring off the moment he could stand on two feet, and occasionally even before that.
As if to prove his point, Will startled awake, blinked in confusion for about fifteen seconds, then attempted to leave the bed.
“Oh no you bloody well don’t,” Bran said, quickly. He leapt up, as if to restrain his friend. Unnecessarily, as it turned out, as Will’s legs got stuck in the tightly fitted sheets that Gwen had made.
“Your ma would have my head if I let you get up this quickly. You may leave bed for dinner, if you feel up for it, but you’ll be staying there until then. If you want anything, then I can get it for you.”
“What a great way to spend my birthday, confined to bed,” Will muttered. “Did Gwen actually tuck me in? I feel like a child again.”
“You looked like one, while you were unconcious. Slept like a babe. And if you didn’t want to spend your birthday stuck in bed, you shouldn’t have gone and collapsed like that, should you? Gave everyone a right scare.” Bran put his glasses back on as he said it, in an attempt to conceal how much of that collective fear had been his. Will caught the action though, and seemed to take pity on him.
“Could I have a cup of tea?” he asked quietly.
Bran nodded and got up quietly.
“And a couple of biscuits, if there’s any to spare?” Will’s voice had gotten teasing again, shifting in that way Bran could never understand from someone who seemed to understand more about the world than most adults to a fourteen (well, fifteen now) year old boy.
“Aye, and I’ll bring them all on a silver platter too, if you want.”
“What else would you bring it on?”
Bran slammed the door as he left, muttering exactly what he thought of the boy.
“You’re not as quiet as you think you are!” Will shouted, from the other side of it.
Bran stopped for a second, reeling at Will’s comment. There was a potential disaster on the horizon. He considered going back inside, or finding some way to get far, far away, and never seeing Will again in his life. The he shook his head. It was no use. He’d face this challenge head on, like he did everything else.
Will smiled softly when he came back in, holding a (plastic) tray with two mugs of tea and a (china) plate of biscuits.
“I’ve been around Aunt Jen enough to know what that means, you know,” he said lightly.
“Shove it, English,” Bran snorted. “As if you didn’t know the language better than any man alive.”
“You remember?” This came out as a strangled cry. Bran was always amused when he managed to knock Will out of his sereness.
“Not really,” he answered, honestly. “But I know that there’s something I’ve forgotten. And I’ve spoken to the Drews. Barney says he remembers practically everything, though he won’t share any of it with us. Jane’s too smart to pretend she doesn’t have something missing, but she’s also sensible enough not to try and chase it. Simon generally avoids the topic entirely.” A sudden thought sturck him with a flash of fear.
“You won’t make me remember, will you? Or make me forget this conversation happened?”
Will shook his head, looking sad.
“No, I won’t. Not unless you ask me to, which is why it was done in the first place. And if I did, and you regretted it, I would do everything in my power to make it up to you.”
“Alright, then, I don’t want you to. If I chose that, then I must have had a reason. But you’re a storyteller, Will Stanton. And you aren’t quite normal. Can you tell me a story, that explains why?”
Will thought for a moment, and then obliged.
“There is the Dark,” he said, “and then there is the Light, to fight it. Twice, the Dark rose, and twice, the Light defeated it. I was created for that second war, one of six who were meant to fight it. So were you. You were a great Lord of the light, and I was to serve you, and fight alongside you, and I did. Jane, Simon and Barney did too, although they were not of the Light, just three ordinary children with an extraordinary attachment to the light. And then there was another.”
He paused then, and Bran waited patiently.
“It was a great battle, and the Light finally won, though not without a cost. You chose to give up your birthright, and the Drews chose to forget as well. You each went your separate ways, but I could not. Someone had to stay, and watch in case the Dark tried to rise again. And that is why I’m not quite a normal fifteen year old.”
“Is it why I’m not one either?”
“Oh, I don’t think you ever had a hope of being normal, Bran.”
“True that,” Bran snorted, “for one thing I seem to be in love with someone who’s not quite human.”
He could have backed down, and he regretted not doing so immediately.
“I’m sorry, Will, I shouldn’t have said that. It was wrong.”
“Why would it be?” Will’s tone was light, but in that dangerous way it sometimes was. Bran wondered for a moment, then saw the implications the words carried.
“What? No!” He shook his head, outraged. “It’s wrong because each time I’ve made any indication of this before today, you’ve shut the subject down, entirely. Even just now, you changed the subject, and instead told me something you probably shouldn’t have.” The stinging in his eyes made him greatful for his glasses. “It would have been better to save us both the pain and keep concealing it.”
“Being in love with you is difficult,” he started, and then faltered when Bran looked at him. His eyes dry now, he took his glasses off and stared, shocked.
To his dismay, Will seemed to take that as discouragement, because when he spoke again, his tone had that strange adult distance to it.
“It’s complicated, you see, because I am devoted to you, as a servant to his master, but am also in love with you.”
“Duw, Will, must you speak in such an academic sense? It’s feelings we’re talking about, and you’re making it as dry as a lecture from Master Jones down in Tywyn Secondary.”
“How else would you have me talk about it?” Will snapped. He was still speaking with the intonation of an old one, but the anger behind the words was that of the young boy he still was. “You hide behind your sarcasm and quips, and I use the tools I’m familiar with.”
Bran’s temper rose.
“Then let’s neither of us hide. You said I gave up those memories I’ve lost, and if that’s the case, then I also gave up what relationship we had. I’m not your master, English, we’re speaking as equals. In status as least if not affection.”
“Equals?” Will smiled his slight smile again, and Bran could see his mischeviousness shining through it.
“Yes. Are you in love with the person you lost when I left those memories behind? Or, as I bloody well hope, with the person you see standing before you now?”
“I loved the person I knew. He was a great man, and one who’s choices I could respect. But I also love the person standing before me, who conspired with my sister to ambush me rudely, and on my special day, no less.”
Bran threw a pillow at him for that.
“Watch it, boyo. I’ve seen you in worse health than this, I know you can take a lot more.”
Will raised his eyebrows, and Bran, taking it as a challenge, leaned in to either kiss him or bat him with the pillow again. He wasn’t sure which. Before he got the chance to choose, though, a sharp look from Will stopped him. He looked about in confusion for a few moments, before Will pointed at the door.
Right. The Stanton clan. Any of them could be listening at the door. James, who’d been openly speculating about Will’s love life at dinner the day before. Mary, who’d caught his eye during that conversation. Barbara, who’s whole idea it had been for him to come visit in the first place. Knowing Will, he probably knew for certain that someone was there, and who it was for good measure.
“How long?” Bran asked, somewhat apprehensive.
Will pointed at the long hand on his watch, then held up two fingers.
“More or less since we met?” He said aloud, answering the second meaning of the question. He then smiled again, slightly wider.
“Obviously, things got complicated when I started snogging Simon all the time, and then there was that whole mess with the mailman...”
He was speaking more loudly now, and his tone was openly playful. Bran worried, for a quick, intense second, that everything prior had also been said at the expense of Will’s siblings, but that was impossible. They’d been speaking for longer than that, and even now, when Will looked at him, his eyes softened.
An outraged shout from outside broke the tension.
“Oh, Will, how could you!”
Mary came in, looking reproachful, followed by Barbara, who looked ashamed.
“Serves you right for eavesdropping,” Will said, looking every bit the petulant child. Sobering up a bit, he looked up at them. “Don’t tell mum and dad, yet, will you? Or anyone, for that matter?”
Barbara smiled easily.
“Of course not. Whenever you’re ready. And Mary, quit it, they have every right to privacy.”
Bran nodded too, slightly awkward at the interruption. His walls had come back up the moment the girls had walked into the room.
Mary shrugged. “We can make sure you’re not interrupted for another fifteen minutes, if you’d like. Give you plenty of time, if you’re smart about it.”
She giggled and ran out of the room, quickly followed by a pillow and Will’s outraged shout of “OUT”. Barbara snorted and followed suit.
Will laughed, and after a while, Bran joined him.
“I think I like your sisters,” he said eventually, short of breath.
“They’re awful,” Will said, still laughing.
Suddenly everything was uncertain again, and Bran couldn’t help but close himself up. He stood up.
“Our time’s nearly over, and I’d be a terrible guest if I didn’t help Mrs Stanton set the table.”
“Don’t try that. Come here.”
Bran did as he was told, and Will took his arm, pulling himself up, and Bran down. When they were level, he leaned in.
It was a short kiss, and nothing spectacular – it seemed quite obvious that it was both their first times (imaginary mailman escapades notwithstanding). It was over as soon as it began. Bran considered going back for more, but decided against it. The laws of hospitality dictated that he set the table, and he was reasonably sure that if he got distracted now he wouldn’t get the chance. Besides, there’d be plenty of time later.