the claw-foot Lady (softlyforgotten) wrote in leavesintheeves,
the claw-foot Lady

Coda #3: Baby's First Earthquake

Baby's First Earthquake
3628 words.
They come for him in the night.

Follow up to And Some You Do For; will not make sense unless you have read that. Art by the lovely tardis80. Warning for dark themes and violence.

t first he was sure it was a bad dream. His dreams were never that original – someone's hand clapping over his mouth and hoisting him up out of nowhere came with the familiar start of terror and vague assurance that in a little while he would wake up. Even when he opened his eyes in the dark and realised that he was being manhandled by an invisible force while three unmistakably Faerie faces gazed at him with cold hatred, he wasn't overly concerned. Nightmares about Faerie weren't that out of the ordinary, especially considering it had barely been a year since they rescued Ryan.

That didn't stop him from yelling aloud, of course, against the magical gag, struggling as best as he could as they carried him twisting and writhing in mid air through the house. He glanced over his shoulder, though, and in their bed Ryan was still peacefully asleep. He was sure it was a nightmare now – he knew better than anything that Ryan wouldn't lie still and not move to help him if he was really in trouble, and he also knew that despite that certainty the very concept was a staple feature in all his nightmares.

Out through the charmed back door and into Faerie, then, and this was nothing in particular to worry about. He was dumped into the back of a painted caravan, the spells released suddenly as the door slammed, and he immediately sat up and started shouting, hammering his fists uselessly against the wooden walls separating him from the world.

"Hey!" he yelled. "Hey, motherfuckers, let me out—"

"Will someone shut it up, please," a cold, inhuman voice said, and everything went comfortingly black again.

He woke again with his back sore and aching from an uncomfortable night on the wooden planks that made up the caravan, and this time he knew with grim certainty that it wasn't a dream. Such clear knowledge was, he thought, more than a little due to the fact that there was a Faerie leaning against the back wall, regarding him with that same sense of cold hatred lying still and calm in his eyes, and Brendon shuddered, sat up and shoved himself backward, into the furthest corner.

What do you want from me, he tried to say, but he could only make soundless shapes with his mouth, able to breathe but not to speak.

"Oh, no, human," the Faerie said. His eyes were an almost purple colour, and he had long black hair reaching down past his shoulders. "We've heard about your pretty voice. We don’t want any surprises."

Fuck you, Brendon mouthed, but the Faerie just looked blank, so he settled for drawing his knees up to his chest and glaring, folding his hands together tight around his legs to stop them from trembling.

"Don't worry, human," the Faerie said. "We'll only be bothering you for a little while. A painless death is assured."

Brendon swallowed hard, closed his eyes for a moment. He had a feeling he knew what was coming next, though, so he made an effort and opened his eyes, gazed steadily at the Faerie, waiting. The Faerie laughed, looking delighted.

"Yes, indeed," he said, softly. "Mostly, we just admire your connections."

Brendon would be bored if he wasn't so terrified. The caravan trundled along all day and night, and Brendon was only occasionally let out to relieve himself in the bushes. The Faeries never appeared to be watching him when he did, but he knew better than to make a break for it, shivering and shaking, opening his mouth again and again in a desperate attempt to make some sound, no matter how small. He never succeeded.

It wasn't so much the endless travelling that frightened him; it was what came next. Brendon knew, sure as anything else in the world, that Ryan would be coming for him (knew that even had Ryan decided he’d had enough of Brendon – and Brendon still found himself waiting for that day with quiet, hopeless dread – Ryan’s stupid sense of honour would have him staging a rescue attempt anyway). He also knew that Ryan was famous in Faerie, and that his kidnappers would know of his inevitable arrival just as well as Brendon did, knew that it was this that their plan hinged on.

It hadn't taken him a particularly long time to work out exactly what said plan was – it was fairly simple, predictable like a bad movie in its intent. Brendon would press his ear to the crack in the wooden boards up near the front of the caravan and listen to them talk with reverence of James, of all the things that could have been theirs, of all the things that had been lost to them. They spoke of Brendon with some delight about the chance to take their anger out on an instrument of their undoing, but Brendon knew that he wasn't a big enough prize, that the easiness with which they had captured him was part of that. Ryan was the enemy. Ryan had always been the enemy. Now they knew they were able to lead him straight into a trap.

They delighted in telling Brendon that, too. Every now and then he would wake up to find one of the three – he never knew their names – smiling at him with a lazy, dangerous air, and they would tell him in voices that matched about how glad they were, how easy this was all turning out to be. "You shared a bed with him," the one with long, white-blonde hair and green eyes murmured, soft and cruel, "We should have guessed, that you were lovers," and Brendon turned his head to the side, couldn’t look at the Faerie, not with that knowledge taunting him.

"Will he be here soon, do you think?" the Faerie asked, so soft. "Is he hurrying after you as fast as he can? His pet, gone astray."

He'll kill you, Brendon tried to say, even though he felt the impossibility of it, in the lazy power these Faeries had, in the effortless way they tossed burning stars into the night skies and watched them burn. The Faerie must have read his lips; she laughed, and shook her head.

"He has always been rash," she told him, even as Brendon closed his eyes, not wanting to listen, wishing he could block his ears like they had blocked his voice. "You know that. You think we don’t know that you're frightened? You're human, and all too easy to read. We know why you're frightened, too. He's going to rush in, and he's unaccustomed to heroics. He's used to running away. He's going to lose his head, and then we will have him, and he will suffer as we have suffered."

You're crazy, Brendon spat at her, and she was at his side too fast, inhuman speed. Her hand snapped out and he gasped at the sharp crack; then his face was stinging, and he tasted blood in his mouth.

"Remember your place," she said quietly, and left.

Brendon woke up and the caravan was still, the door open. He did not, for a moment, think that this was a good sign; warily, he stood up, stooping to avoid cracking his head on the low ceiling and stretching his aching limbs. When he stumbled down the bottom steps, the Faeries looked up at him, and he swallowed, throat suddenly dry – their number had multiplied, nineteen of them now ranged around an open fire.

"This is it?" one of the newer ones asked, looking unimpressed. Brendon tried not to glare. His lip was still stinging.

"That's the one," the Faerie with blonde hair agreed, gaze icy. She beckoned, and then, when Brendon stood still and unmoving, sighed and murmured a word, and Brendon's legs jerked forward without his permission, drawing him inextricably closer. "Really," she said, shaking her head. "All this defiance, human. I thought the function of man was reason. Have you not understood that there is no way out of this, yet?"

I hate you, Brendon thought, but didn’t bother mouthing it, just stood motionless in front of them. His head was aching, a sharp, throbbing pain in his temples that had been there for the last week, or so it felt. He wondered, very, very quietly, why Ryan hadn't caught up with them, yet.

Perhaps not quietly enough, because the final Faerie of the original trio smiled and looked at him with eyes so dark as to make the pupil indistinct. "We are done with leading him deeper into our lands," the Faerie told Brendon. Brendon thought, done with running away, but the Faerie continued impassively, "The time has come for the trap to close."

Do you ever, Brendon mouthed with frightened, contrived nonchalance, feel stupid with that goddamned way of talking? It's pretty lame.

"The human," a new Faerie observed, "seems to think itself better than us."

"The human," the blonde Faerie said, "is a fool."

"Still," the first said, and shrugged. After a moment the blonde Faerie nodded in agreement, and the first Faerie who had spoken to Brendon, the one with purple eyes, stood and crossed to him, took his wrist with a cool, hard grip. Brendon had just enough time to feel an additional stab of unease before the Faerie was wrenching his arm up and around, impossibly hard and fast, and Brendon cried out soundlessly as his arm protested for one agonising moment and then snapped.

The Faerie let go, looking satisfied. Brendon staggered and then crashed to his knees, retching hard, arm feeling as if it were on fire. The Faeries didn't even laugh; when he looked up, world spinning around him, they had turned back to each other, entirely unconcerned with him. Brendon breathed in sharply once, twice, and then passed out.

He woke to the low murmur of voices that were almost excited, his broken arm twisted up painfully behind him, and he realised that he was leaning back against a wooden stake driven into the ground as though bound, unable to move, even though there were no ropes binding him. He breathed shallowly, unable to get enough air, and his arm didn’t stop hurting for a moment, making him dizzy with pain.

The blonde Faerie appeared in front of him, smiled bright in the early light of dawn. "He is almost here," she told him, sounding almost cheerful. "We have just had word. It will not be long now."

Brendon looked at her dully, trying not to show the way his stomach was twisting into knots, the steady hopelessness in him. He's so powerful, he tried to say instead, knowing she was reading his lips. He'll get me free before you notice, and then we'll go home. Perhaps not the most spirited last comment, but he was too exhausted and in too much pain to come up with anything that Hollywood would be likely to use. The Faerie just smiled.

"Oh, we know that," she said. "But that wouldn’t be any fun, now, would it?" She cradled Brendon’s face in two cold, long-fingered hands, and Brendon felt his stomach heave again, especially as she murmured something soft and silky under her breath, and he felt something strange sliding over him, stopping him from breathing for a moment.

"There, now," she whispered, almost kind, and clearly pleased with herself. Brendon had never hated anyone so much in his life. "To everyone else, now, you look as though you have been dead for some hours."

Brendon stared at her, wide-eyed and unbelieving, and she laughed lightly, and turned away, gone easily to her companions. They looked tall and proud and immaculate in the early morning, and Brendon thought, oh, run away, run away, run away, and wished more than anything that Ryan could hear him, and that somehow he would do it, anyway, despite everything that Brendon knew about him.

There's too many, he thought uselessly, and then he slumped back against the wooden stake, and waited.

The sun was low in the sky but definitely risen when the murmur went through the makeshift camp; Brendon guessed it was maybe seven in the morning, by human clocks. He swallowed hard and looked up and sure enough, standing on the hill directly above the camp was a figure, silhouetted against the sun, tall and familiar, paused and waiting there for a moment.

Brendon thought, oh, please, no, and the Faeries gathered in front of him laughed. The one who had broken his arm walked forward and bowed, mockingly, called up the hill, "You see that you are perhaps a little late, Magician. Time is of the essence, you know."

"Nevertheless," Ryan said, and his voice was low and calm, but it carried easily through the air. Then he started down the hill, and Brendon realised with a start that he had been right in what he had told the blonde Faerie, that they were crazy.

Because Brendon hadn’t known, but they should have, and clearly everyone else did, and that was why no one had tried to stage something like this before, and that was why Ryan had been open and unprotected against spells that could steal Brendon away in the night – because he hadn't thought they would try. Because no one had thought anyone would be stupid enough; because these Faeries weren't stupid, because they were crazy; because, Brendon realised with something cold spreading in him, there was a reason Ryan was considered the greatest magician in Faerie. Because he couldn't be stopped.

Brendon didn't know what he would have expected in a fight – more of Ryan's magic with the natural world, with trees and plants and the very elements coming to his aid. This wasn't anything like that – Ryan just raised his hand and the Faerie with purple eyes flew through the air and landed with a sickening crack. He lay very still, and it took Brendon a moment to realise that he was dead.

This wasn't magic to do with the world – this was nothing to do with life at all. Ryan moved with an easy, striding walk down the hill towards the group, and they came at him in pairs and trios and on their own, and Ryan walked unhurt, untouched in the centre of their storm. No transformation of trees with them, though, no fate such as James had been given; instead Brendon watched in transfixed horror as Ryan blew them apart so fast that only ashes subsided from the explosions and screams, a sudden expansion of form into black and then the settling of ashes and burning embers, and Ryan moved steadily, inextricably forward.

Only one Faerie begged – one of the original three, falling forward onto his knees and whispering, "Please." Ryan was close enough now that Brendon could see his features and he looked cool and impassive and utterly without mercy when he looked straight at the Faerie and didn't look away until he had cried out, consumed by flame from the inside out. Brendon swallowed hard, and wondered what Ryan saw when he looked at Brendon. He thought, almost secretly, that it must be pretty horrible, because Ryan hadn't let his gaze go in Brendon's direction since he first stared at the top of the hill.

The blonde Faerie was one of the last four to fall, and as she did so, Brendon felt her magic give way; for a second, sound roared around his ears, and then he was falling forward, unsupported by the invisible ropes, the sickly feeling of the illusion around his skin fading away. "Ryan," he croaked, his voice returned to him, but Ryan didn't look up, was already moving in on the last Faerie. He didn't say anything. He just stretched out his hands for the first time and then, very suddenly, Brendon and Ryan were the last living beings in the camp, surrounded by ashes and shadowed by clouds gathering overhead.

Ryan hadn't made a gesture for all but one of the Faeries. Now, Brendon looked at Ryan's hands, and realised that they were trembling. He made an effort to get to his feet and then gave up, sinking back down, head spinning.

"Ryan," he said, stronger this time, and Ryan looked straight at him and then swayed. He wet his lips and stared and Brendon said, "I – it was an illusion, they were just," and then stopped, because Ryan was beside him already, falling down to his knees, pressing his face into Brendon's hair.

"I thought," Ryan said, and his voice was shaking. Brendon shook his head and Ryan took Brendon's face in his hands and tilted it up to meet his gaze, surveyed Brendon intently, eyes raking over him, the split lip, down to his dirty clothing and the arm at an awkward angle.

"An illusion," Brendon repeated, weakly, and Ryan nodded.

"I should have known," he said, taking in a shuddering breath. "I would have known, in a minute, I just didn't – stop." He looked suddenly wary. "And now they're—"

"—all dead," Brendon said, quietly. "Yes."

Ryan swallowed. "I wish," he said, "I wish you hadn't seen that, but I – I would have done it anyway, Brendon, I'm sorry, I would have, I swear to all that is – they hurt you."

"I'm glad," Brendon told him, and it was true. "I'm glad you did." He realised abruptly that he was shivering and tilted closer to Ryan, pressing his face against Ryan's warm skin, closing his eyes as Ryan reached up and combed long fingers through his hair.

"I thought they'd killed you," Ryan repeated, numbly, and Brendon squirmed closer to him, gasping a little when he knocked his broken arm awkwardly. Ryan clutched at him and above them, the skies opened, started to rain.

The air smelt of smoke and rain and ashes. For a long while, neither of them moved, Ryan bent over Brendon like a benediction, and Brendon felt the pain and fear of the past days dissipate slowly, leaving only his arm and throbbing head. In comparison, his injuries felt rather small, and Brendon whispered something vaguely incoherent of the like. Ryan laughed, hoarse and unhappy.

"Like that's nothing," he said. "Like that's – it’s my fault, and I can’t even – I can't fix your arm for you, Brendon, I'm sorry."

Brendon winced. "Not even to make it stop hurting?" he asked. "I get that you don’t want to mess with nature or whatever—"

Ryan shook his head. "It's not that," he said tiredly. "It's – Brendon, I don't even have enough magic in me to keep us dry from the rain right now," and Brendon leaned back enough to see how pale Ryan was, the circles darkening under his eyes, how drained he looked.

"Fuck," he said, but Ryan just shook his head again, eyes slipping closed and then open again, like he was exhausted but couldn't stop looking.

"S'not so bad," he whispered, and bent his head to kiss the corner of Brendon's mouth, his forehead, the tip of his nose. He said, "I was so – I woke up and you were gone."

"I know," Brendon said.

"You don't," Ryan countered, fierce and unhappy. "You don't, I, it was my fault, I thought you'd be killed for me—"

"I know," Brendon repeated, and Ryan looked at him sharply and then nodded, understanding. Brendon laughed a little hysterically and said, "There were so many of them."

"Not enough," Ryan said grimly, and Brendon kissed him. It was a pretty terrible kiss, both of them frightened and exhausted and hurting all over, but neither of them moved away.

After some time, they managed to stagger to their feet and start on the long journey home. The caravan and horses had disappeared with the death of their magical masters, and so they went by foot. The first day was excruciating, and the second as bad, but by the third Ryan had recovered enough of his magic to ease the pain in Brendon’s arm (and, he said, though Brendon suspected him of lying, his own exhaustion) and by the fourth he could lend a little supernatural speed to their walk. It was still a week before they were anywhere near home, but it was alright, it was manageable, and it was far better than the – comparatively comfortable – journey out to the camp in the first place.

"It'll be good to be back," Brendon sighed on the last night they spent in Faerie, and Ryan nodded.

"Jon and Spencer are going to kill us," he said. "Depending on how much time has passed."

Brendon frowned. "You didn't – wait, you didn't tell them where you went? Or leave a note, or anything?"

"Brendon," Ryan said, tightly. He had gotten better since that first terrible day, but he was still reluctant to let Brendon out of his sight for even a moment, and now his face was white again, his eyes huge and frightened. Brendon watched his Adam's apple drag against the line of his throat as he swallowed hard and said, voice rough, "You were gone."

"I know," Brendon said, and folded in close towards him again. "I know, hey, I'm sorry."

"Wasn't your fault," Ryan mumbled.

"Wasn't yours, either," Brendon told him. "Ryan, they were crazy," and Ryan looked at him and nodded in a small kind of way. Brendon didn't believe that he accepted it, but it would do for now. Up above them, the clouds parted, and all the stars were out.

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