Memories of Things You’ve Never Known

~1100 words :: The Dark Is Rising :: Will/Bran :: 12/25/06
Will doesn’t know what he was expecting when he accepted Jane’s invitation to Christmas dinner with her and Bran, but this isn’t it.

“Oh.” Jane’s hand flies to her mouth, her eyes widening. “Will.”

Will smiles, runs his fingers through his hair. “Happy Christmas.”

“Happy Christmas yourself,” she says, stepping over the threshold to pull him into a tight hug, her belly pressed awkwardly between them. “I wasn’t expecting you.”

Laughing, he presses a kiss to her cheek. “You invited me, didn’t you?”

She swats at him with her dish towel and ushers him inside. “We invite you every year.”

“And every year I mean to come, really I do.” It’s not a lie exactly.

“You work yourself too hard,” she says, and her free hand strays to her belly as she turns and calls up the stairs. “Bran!”

There’s no response. Jane sighs, looks at Will apologetically, and goes over to the stairs. “Bran?” she calls again, taking a few steps up. “We have a guest.”

Will can hear movement now. Jane turns back to him and shrugs. “I’m sorry. Lately he’s been…”

“Maybe I shouldn’t have come.”

“No! It’s-”

Whatever she was going to say is lost to the clatter of boots on the wooden stairs and Bran’s voice, familiar as if it hadn’t been going on six years since Will had heard it last. “Who is it, Jenny?”

“Come and see for yourself.”

“What do you think I’m-” Will can hear Bran’s sharp inhale all the way across the room. “Will…”

Will smiles, crossing the room to clap Bran on the back. “Happy Christmas!”

The words are barely out of his mouth before Bran’s pulling him into an embrace, tighter even than Jane’s had been. Bran is tense, but their bodies fit together too well and now Will knows he shouldn’t have come. “Happy Christmas, Will,” Bran murmurs in his ear.

They pull apart reluctantly and it’s only then that Will gets his first good look at Bran. He looks worn down, dark bags under his eyes standing out starkly against his pale skin, and he’s holding himself as if it’s only the tension keeping him standing at all. Is this what Jane had meant to say?

Is this why Will had felt compelled to accept Jane’s invitation this year, after having successfully avoided Bran since the wedding, after finally feeling like he’d got his balance back?

“Set another place at the table, Bran,” Jane says. “Dinner won’t be much longer.”

Will trails behind Bran into the dining room and is surprised to see only two place settings. “Just us?” he asks, poking his head in the kitchen.

“Mother and Father are on a cruise, Barney’s spending the week with his girlfriend’s family – I told you he has a new girlfriend, didn’t I? Alice. Sweet thing. Still at uni.” Jane hands him a covered dish. “Potatoes. Put those on the table, will you?” Will’s stomach growls as he takes it from her and she grins. “Anyway, Simon and Mary have been talking about starting their own Christmas traditions, now the boys are getting older, and since everyone else was abandoning us, too…”

“Well, I’m sorry I missed everyone.”

“Next time you’ll just have to let us know ahead of time you’re coming.”

Will smiles, thankful for Jane’s chatter. If she notices she carries most of the conversation throughout dinner, she doesn’t give any sign. Even Bran relaxes eventually and it’s almost like old times, except for the way Will avoids Bran’s gaze. The way Bran looks at him hasn’t changed at all.

After dinner, Bran helps Jane upstairs for a nap, but only after Will’s given his word he won’t disappear while she’s sleeping. It’s more than a little tempting, despite the compulsion he felt to be here. He clears the table and starts on the washing up, all the while feeling as though he’s holding his breath waiting for Bran’s footsteps on the stairs.

They never come. One minute he’s alone and the next there’s Bran right behind him, and Will nearly drops a plate. “I need to talk to you,” Bran says, so close Will can feel his warm breath on his ear.

“There’s nothing to talk about.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Will can see Bran turn sharply on his heel, fists balled at his sides as he leans back against the counter. “I’m going mad, Will.”

Will shuts off the tap and dries his hands. “Mad?”

“Look at me.” Bran reaches out, grips Will’s shoulder. His hand feels hot enough to burn through Will’s jumper, through his shirt and skin and muscle, right through to his bones. Bran doesn’t speak again til Will meets his eyes, and then he says, “I haven’t slept in months. Not proper sleep.”

And suddenly Will knows. “No,” he whispers. No, this isn’t what was supposed to happen. What’s the point of staying away, of giving Bran up, if it happens whether Will’s around or not?

Bran’s eyes narrow. “Why do I dream of you?” Will raises his eyebrows and Bran snorts, one corner of his mouth turning up. “Not like that. Well, like that, too.” And then he’s pushing Will against the counter, hands planted to each side. “But those dreams I know are real.” His lips brush over Will’s jaw. “No, these dreams are of…of things that can’t… When we were children…” He laughs, a frantic, choking sound that makes Will shiver. “I’m going mad, Will, because there’s no way…”

Will closes his eyes, opens his mouth when Bran’s lips meet his, and it’s so easy, too easy to fall back into this. His hands creep up, smoothing over Bran’s chest. Why can’t he have this? He could tell Bran, tell him everything, and…

“Bran,” he moans.

“Christ.” Bran’s fingers twist in Will’s jumper, his lips skidding over Will’s cheek and down his neck. He’s shaking. “Will, please.”

“Your wife is upstairs,” Will says, his voice harsh, “your pregnant wife.”

“I know. I know.”

“Then don’t do this.” Don’t do this to me. “They’re just dreams, just nightmares.”

“Don’t lie to me.” Bran grinds against him. “Please…”

It takes all Will’s strength to push him away; he doesn’t know how many more times he can do this. He meets Bran’s eyes, expecting to see the hurt of betrayal, and the resignation he finds instead is even worse.

Will’s hand trembles when he holds up it, fingers outstretched, and Bran’s face is serene as the memories slip away.