I've been sitting on this fic since November, partly due to the fact that it's just plain weird, but mostly because neither of my regular betas have read the series, thus leaving me with no one to tell me if I was off terribly or not. Still, I sort of like it, so here we go. Warnings for um... flexibility with the bounds of High Magic? Intentional vagueness? Nothing, really. The Dark is Rising Sequence is property of Susan Cooper, who I am definitely not. No profit is being made from this story. It is written purely for personal enjoyment.


Barney gave up attempting to decipher his own art years ago. In the strange, dark hours of the morning, he regards his painting with an almost detached eye, as if it is someone else's hand guiding the brush as it glides across the canvas: a long, broad stroke of black here, a spatter of red, a thin blue line that winds through the picture in infinitesimal whorls. This is hardly the first time he has awoken from some hazy, ineffable dream and felt something pressing, weighing on his mind so that he can't sleep, can't think, until he gets up, pads across the room, and paints.

His mother says that it's his artist's spirit. Really, it feels more like possession than inspiration. But it's been a long time since Barney has felt normal.

It's always a surprise, and yet somehow never surprising, to step back and see what he has made. Despite all odds, these paintings are never truly abstract. They are scenes from his dreams, he thinks, and cannot imagine why these are the images that press the most upon his mind. His mother, after all, has always painted sailboats and scenery. He painted like she does, once, and tries, during the day, to reproduce these sort of lovely, mundane things as they present themselves, but it is as if something in his mind is misfiring, as if he has to try too hard to connect something that has been wrenched apart, and the effort makes the painting feel too forced to truly be called art at all. He remembers, vaguely, a time when he simply sat sketching the boats in Trewissick harbour and was content, but all of his memories of that summer have become muddled with time, and he has never, ever been able to recreate the feeling he had in those weird and wonderful childhood days, though he has never known why.

So instead of drawing what he sees, Barney gives into the strange images that lie hidden deep in his mind and steps away from the canvas time and time again to find an image waiting, something from the inner recesses of his conscience, something he has never seen, yet, somewhere, has seen. A single tree, standing strong against the onslaught of total chaos; a great ship full of people, with a noble, kingly figure at the bow; a lady dressed in blue, gracious as a queen goddess, looking into his eyes and saying... what?

Merriman Lion, standing atop a mountain with his hand outstretched and sadness in his eyes.

Often, and perhaps most strangely, the paintings are of Will Stanton and Bran Davies, neither of whom he has seen since that holiday in Wales when he was a child. He barely remembers those days at all, now, muddled as they are with time, so he cannot imagine why he would feel the need to record Will Stanton's wise, old eyes or his silhouette framed against the gray, Welsh sky, the depths of Llyn Barfog stretched out below him. Painting Bran he can at least understand. The boy was visually striking, with his impossibly pale skin and tawny eyes. That, at least, explains the dozens of paintings Barney has done of him. It does not explain the strange swell of emotion his face inspires in Barney, some strange mixture of respect and awe and another feeling that he cannot quite finger. It doesn't explain why Bran is always brandishing a sword, sometimes standing on a beach, looking into the distance with veiled eyes. And sometimes standing tall as the world goes mad around him, hair whipping around his head, sword raised.

It doesn't really explain anything.

Sensing that the painting has at last been completed, Barney puts down his paintbrush and moves back to see what he has created. It's the English countryside, he thinks, and it would look as innocuous and blandly attractive as one of his mother's paintings, if not for the huge expanse of darkness sweeping in from one corner, bleeding into the bright colours, turning the grass red and the sky to darkest night, a thousand shadowy figures rushing in like a mass of demons.

"The Dark is rising," he thinks, but he can't remember what it means and has no idea why he suddenly feels so very cold and afraid.

xxxx

Mary is the first of the Stantons to turn the corner and the first to see Bran Davies standing as still and white as a statue on the walk outside of their home. It's completely jarring, as disquieting as suddenly seeing a ghost, and she stops short, just staring, hearing the others halt in their steps, wondering aloud what she's doing. Then Robin sucks in a sharp breath, and James swears softly, and she remembers that they have never seen Bran before and are even less prepared for the extraordinary sight than she is. When Mary had met him during her time in Wales, Bran had been in the habit of wearing dark clothes, intentionally making himself look eerie and strange by comparison, but today he is dressed all in white, from his stiffly pressed coat to his polished shoes. Standing there among all the fallen leaves and frozen underbrush, he looks like one of the angelic messengers in the biblical paintings her grandmother is so fond of, somehow beautiful and terrifying all at once.

Bran turns his head slightly to glance in their direction, with the air of some great personage reluctantly acknowledging the peasantry. The glasses, Mary notices, are the same, and Bran brings his hand up and removes them with deliberate slowness to reveal the piercing, yellow eyes that she remembers with such clarity. James swears again, and then they are silent, the Stantons in startled awe and Bran in apparent indifferent.

They seem to stand there for a long time, though it can only have been a few moments, before Mary hears quick, crunching footsteps round the corner and Will's voice, full of confusion.

"What are you all looking at? Is—"

And then a gasp, a thump of hastily dropped packages, and Will is pushing through their motionless bodies, with a sharp cry of surprised delight, rushing toward the still figure of his friend, looking younger than he has in years.

"What are you doing here?" Will asks once he reaches the other boy, and Mary can hear the smile in his voice.

And then something shifts in the air. The two regard each other for a moment, Bran with that same, regal air, his face impassive, before Will takes a stiff step backward and kneels, whispering something that she cannot make out, his tone suddenly formal. Bran towers over her brother for one long moment, looking for all the world like a king receiving his due homage, rather than the teenage farmhand she'd met in Wales.

And then, just as suddenly, his entire manner changes, slipping out of the persona as easily as shrugging off a heavy coat, and he smiles wryly before tugging Will to his feet. Her brother is visibly shaken, and Bran squeezes his shoulder in brotherly commiseration.

"How?" Will asks, and somehow, she knows he isn't referring to how Bran got to England. "This can't be."

Bran shrugs with one shoulder, quirking his mouth. "Old One, you severely underestimate the bounds of High Magic. Especially when the balance of things is threatened and danger approaches unopposed."

"But this means they've found a way to..." Will murmurs, his voice taking on a strangely mature timbre, thoughtful and grave. "I've been feeling it for days now, but I had hoped..."

Bran only nods solemnly.

"But of course," Will says, in that same, impossibly old voice. "This is not the place to discuss this."

Bran picks up his suitcase, and the two turn and walk together into the house, speaking in low tones.

"You didn't tell us that Will's friend was..." James begins, then trails off, obviously searching for the correct adjective to describe Bran and finding none. "Like that."

"Mmm," Mary intones, stooping to collect Will's forgotten parcels.

"What were they talking about just now?" Robin asks wonderingly. "Was that all some sort of code?"

Mary thinks of the sombre set of Will's shoulders, of the fathomless depths of Bran's golden eyes, and feels like she has been shut out of something crucially important, so suddenly and fiercely that the slamming of the door has left her reeling.

"I don't know," she says honestly and follows Will into the house.

xxxx

Paul doesn't understand this situation at all, and he certainly doesn't understand Bran Davies. In fact, none of the Stantons seem to know what to make of Bran. He's mercurial, as changing as the winds and even less predictable. One moment, he's the perfect houseguest, making polite conversation with Paul's parents, offering to help with the chores and housework. The next moment, he's exchanging sarcastic quips with James, relating bawdy anecdotes in that faux-earnest tone he seems to have perfected, his striking eyes full of mischief. Some days he is quite and dreary, spending hours tucked away in Will's room or sitting at the window, looking out at the drizzly almost-snow with heavily lidded eyes, a thousand miles away. And on at least four occasions, he has not, Paul is convinced, been Bran Davies at all, but rather some strange, noble personage, speaking to Will with all of the earnestness and conviction of some great general preparing a battle plan for his troops. Of course, Paul would never dare to say decisively which was the "true" Bran, whether it be the kingly one or no, because he hardly knows the boy, after all. What he does know is that, at those times, Bran is disconcerting to encounter, less because of his own behaviour and more because of Will's.

Whatever is going on (and oh, Paul knows something is going on), it has made them reckless. Often, it seems that they either do not or simply cannot spare the energy to worry that someone is listening to their conversations. Or perhaps, it is only Paul of whom they are not wary, since no one else seems to see it as he does, although he knows they can sense the strangeness the atmosphere. When he asks Will, the only answer he receives is a distantly spoken: "Perhaps," and, "The way you play makes me less cautious, of course, but I'd hardly let you know everything."

Which is not an answer at all.

But however it comes about, Paul finds himself overhearing them, when he walks into the kitchen late at night for a drink and they do not even pause in their talk of battles and darkness and evil. And he listens to Will's formal, wise speech, watches the ridiculously confident, adult way that Will holds himself and thinks, "This is not my brother."

And as with Bran, Paul wonders if he knows Will enough that he can safely say this.

No, he decides. He probably doesn't.

Somehow, he feels, he has had these same thoughts, and reached this same conclusion, once, long ago, but his mind cannot supply the time or place. Only the emotion lingers, like the memory of feelings from within a dream, the requisite knowledge making it so that, this time, he finds himself much less surprised, though no less disturbed. Will has never been like the rest of them. Or at least, he hasn't been in a very long time.

He'd been a serious child, intelligent and good-natured, somewhat set apart from his siblings, yet always one of them, part of the indomitable Stanton family juggernaut, and very much a child. And then, at the dawn of puberty, they had all looked on in astonishment as he had developed into some knew persona, becoming markedly more withdrawn, thoughtful and more mature than any pre-teen had the right to be. And yet his behaviour was punctuated with sudden bursts of exuberant and almost false-seeming childishness, as if he were only acting the part of a young boy and over reaching in an attempt to make up for breaking character. Paul, ever the family empath, seemed the only one who picked up on just how bizarre this behaviour was. While the rest of the family had joked about an awkward stage and teased Will about his supposedly raging hormones, Paul had, somehow, always known that it wasn't a phase. This was Will. Now, at nineteen, he is as enigmatic as ever, as separate, and Paul wants to laugh aloud at his family's surprise that Will should have such a bizarre friend, should have such an odd connection with the boy. Of course, he would. Of course.

He's Will, after all.

Paul learned long ago to expect great and strange things from Will. Exactly when and why, he doesn't know, but the lesson has stuck, so he simply sips on his glass of water and listens to Bran say: "We shall, of course, need the aid of Herne."

"I don't know how to enlist him," says Will. "Last time there was this mask. I'm not sure if—"

"Leave that to me," says Bran. "It will take more than your flashy tricks to deal with the agents of Wild Magic this time, I think."

"Oh, and will you talk him into rising?" Will snaps, bristling, and Paul can feel nothing but overwhelming relief that Will is still this human. "Because as far as I know, all you've got is your memories and an increased desire to order me around."

Instead of getting angry or effectively pulling rank, as Paul (as well as Will, from the looks of things) expects him to do, Bran only laughs softly.

"Silly dewin. I didn't mean anything by it. Besides," he grins wickedly. "What makes you think I've told you everything I can do?"

Will stares at him for one long moment, before simply leaning over and resting his head on Bran's shoulder. Bran laughs again and makes no move to pull away. Instead, he closes his eyes and tilts his own, white head back with a sigh.

"It's hard work, this saving the world business."

Will makes a soft noise to signal his agreement, the sound muffled by the thickness of Bran's sweater. They stay like that, neither speaking, for several minutes, and Paul, still nursing his glass of water, feels as if he is intruding on some kind of deep communion that he will never understand. Suspecting that they've forgotten his presence entirely, he sets his glass down softly and makes for the door, only to have Bran's eyes snap open and fix on him, their colour a deep, dusky amber in the half-light.

"We'll be working all night in here," he says in a low voice. "If you want, you could play us something on your flute."

It's such a meagre, stupid offering, Paul thinks. As if his music, no matter how good, can do anything at all to help them stand against this coming evil. As if what he does matters at all.

But Bran looks at him with serious eyes, resting his cheek against the crown of Will's bowed head. Will has not yet stirred, and Paul realizes after a moment that his brother has actually fallen asleep. As if reading his mind, Bran shifts slightly and says:

"He'll be angry if I don't wake him. He might as well have something nice to wake to, I think."

And with sudden clarity, Pauls sees the dark circles under Will's eyes, the pinched, worried look that Bran is casting in his direction, and it occurs to him that maybe Bran feels as useless as Paul himself does. He remembers Bran's soft laughter at Will's outburst, sees the gentle hand he rests on the back of Will's neck and thinks Oh.

"You want him to be human, too."

Bran (the real Bran, Paul is absolutely sure) only looks at him, and in his eyes, Paul can see everything. Hope and despair, solemnity and humour, humility and great, noble pride. Exhaustion. Worry. Fear.

And love.

"How do you feel about Greensleeves?" Paul asks him and receives a tight-lipped smile in reply.

xxxx

Simon is jolted from some hazy dream about the sea by the incessant ringing of his phone. He blinks blearily into the darkness for a moment before turning to look at his clock. 3:42 in the morning.

"This had better be a bloody emergency," he grumbles irritably, groping for the device. "Hello?"

"Simon?" It's Jane's voice that comes through the receiver, breathless-sounding and slightly muffled.

He sits up quickly, fighting off panic. Jane, by nature, would never call someone this early in the morning unless something terrible had happened.

"Jane, are you alright?" He gasps out. "What's wrong?"

"I'm fine," she says. "I'm getting on a train."

"You're what?" Surely he hadn't heard her correctly.

"Getting on a train. I'm going to go see Will Stanton."

"Who's...? Wait, Will from that holiday in Wales? Why?"

None of them have seen Will Stanton since they were children, right? His mind supplies several conspiracy theories about secret love affairs, and in fact, Jane had written to Will for some time after that trip. But that had stopped years ago, and Jane is supposed to have a boyfriend, now, isn't she?

"Jane, I thought you were seeing someone. Besides—"

Jane gives a startled laugh.

"It's not like that, Simon. Not at all. There's something I need to talk to him about."

"And you couldn't ask him over the phone?" She doesn't deign to reply, so Simon presses on. "It's four in the morning, Jane. This is mad! Do Mother and Father know about this?"

"Of course not. And feel free to tell them, because I'll be long gone once they get here. I counted on you doing it, anyway. That's why I called. I just wanted you to know where I was so that they wouldn't be too worried."

"Jane, I'm worried! This doesn't make any sense. I don't understand why you're doing this."

For a moment, there is only the crackling of the phone, and he is afraid he's lost her, but then she speaks, her voice hesitant and earnest.

"Do you ever feel like you've forgotten something really important? I don't mean like forgetting someone's name or your homework. I mean something big. Something crucial. Because I have these dreams, all the time, since I was little, and I think they actually happened, but I can't remember, Simon. I try and I try, but it's like every time I get close, the memory just slips further away, and last night, I talked to Barney, and he said that he feels it, too, that he's been painting these things that I dream about for years. That not being able to remember is driving him crazy, and I think it's driving me a little crazy. Barney says something bad is going to happen, like what happened last time, but he doesn't remember what that was. He's scared. I just... I have to know, Simon, if I'm losing my mind or... Or if it's real, even a little of it. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

Simon leans back against the headboard, tilting his face to the ceiling, and shuts his eyes.

"They're just dreams, Jane," he says, tiredly. "We can't let—"

"We?" Jane interrupts, the phone fuzzing slightly with her raised voice. "Simon, do you... Do you remember something?"

Simon thinks of a thousand dreams and nightmares, full of monsters and heroes, being chased or drowning, and always Will Stanton or Great Uncle Merry there, both of whom had made their dynamic ways out of his life long ago. He thinks of trying to write an essay about his holiday in Wales and being terribly confused and upset that he couldn't seem to remember a thing that had happened there. He thinks of the time when Mother had shown him one of Barney's paintings, a picture of all of them, with Merriman Lyon, Will, and Bran Davies, gathered around a single tree as the world broke apart around them, and he'd had to find a dark, quite room to sit in for a while, because the wave of nausea and disorientation had been so great.

He thinks of telling Jane this, of getting out of bed, driving to whatever train station she's calling from, and going away with her. He thinks of the truth, of the approaching danger, of finally putting his worries to rest.

He thinks of the coffee he'd promised to have with his girlfriend today, of the meeting he has scheduled with one of his professors. He thinks of his tiny, normal apartment, of his safe, boring, wonderful life. Of watching it all fall apart around him, knowing he's done it to himself by opening the door, by asking those questions he was never meant to ask. By messing with things that he knows can only ruin him.

"Simon?" comes Jane's voice over the phone. "Simon?"

"I'm calling Mother and Father," Simon tells her.

"...Alright," says Jane, after a moment, her voice leaden with pity and regret.

The line goes dead. Simon sits there for a long time, the dial tone sounding in his ear, and thinks that, if he hasn't done the right thing, he has at least done the best thing.

He wonders if his girlfriend would be willing to have their coffee date a few hours early.

xxxx

It's when the girl shows up that James is absolutely sure it isn't in his imagination. Until then, he had thought (hoped), that it might all be in his head. The utter strangeness of Bran Davies. The way that Will seems to never sleep anymore. The way they go silent every time he walks into the room. The way the sky is getting darker, day by day, and the air feels dead.

He'd told himself that he was being ridiculous, that nothing was going on at all. Will is just being strange, and therefore, himself, and James has obviously let himself be thrown into paranoia by the unexpectedness of Bran's visit and the abnormality of Bran himself. Everything that is happening can be explained away by natural causes, so, so easily. But then he opens the door and finds her standing there in the cold, completely without baggage, looking wild and desperate, her hair unrestrained and whipping around her wildly in the winter wind.

And before he can ask her who she is or what she's doing here, Will has materialized from nowhere, grabbing her by the shoulders and steering her inside.

"Jane," he says, and James didn't even know Will knew a Jane. "What are you doing here?"

"I want to help you," the girl, Jane, says earnestly. "I know something's happening. I had to come. I don't know why."

Will sighs and casts a pointed look in James' direction out of the corner of his eyes. Nodding, James makes his way in the direction of the kitchen as if he wants to give them some privacy, only to stop just around the corner, straining to hear their conversation.

"How much do you remember?" Will asks her, in a low voice.

"Nothing," says Jane, her voice wavering. "Nothing really. But I have dreams that might be memories, Will, about a tree and a sword, and... And what are you, Will?"

James hears his brother beginning to say something, then pause, and he holds his breath. But the next thing he hears is the creak of the stairs as two pairs of feet hurry upwards toward Will's room. Will is too smart not to expect someone in the family to be eavesdropping, of course, and rightly so. James looks over his shoulder and sees Mary peeking around another corner, the same disappointed expression on her face that he must wear on his own. In silent agreement, the two move forward together as quietly as they can, down the hall and, slowly, up the stairs toward the still-cracked door of Will's room, from which they can hear the audible, but incomprehensible, sound of a distinctly feminine voice.

James nears the top of the staircase and stoops close to the steps, leaning across the last few to get as close as he can while remaining mostly invisible. Mary crouches down beside him, wedged between his body and the wall.

"Will, I know something happened! Is happening, right now. I thought I had to come here to know for sure, and I did, but not because you were going tell me. You can lie to me all you want. Just seeing the two of you is enough."

Mary casts a glance in his direction that clearly communicates her confusion, which he knows is mirrored in his own expression. What on earth are they talking about? What does this stranger know that they do not?

"Look," the girl says, and there is the sound of cloth shifting and the rattle of paper. "Look at this, and tell me that they're only dreams."

More sounds. Paper passing from hand to hand, the hollow creak of someone sitting down heavily on the bed, the muted sounds of someone shifting from foot to foot. Silence.

He has to know what they're doing. What is Will supposed to look at? What's happening in there? Mary nods, apparently reading his face correctly, and slowly, carefully, leans across the remaining steps, until she's practically lying on the stairs, her long hair pooling across the top step. Turning her head to peek into the room, she stiffens suddenly. James leans forward himself and sees Bran in the doorway, looking down at them, his expression unreadable. Before James can think of anything to say, an argument, a plea, Bran shuts the door with a snap, and they are left outside.

Mary makes a strangled, frustrated sound and buries her head in her arms on the carpeted floor of the landing, staying slumped there on the stairs until James recovers from his own shocked disappointment, takes her by the elbow, and pulls her after him down the stairs and into the kitchen. As he walks through the door he's surprised to see that the other Stanton siblings who, like himself, have come home for the holidays, are already gathered there. Paul is sitting at the table, gazing distantly out the window, as Robin paces the floor and Barbara riffles through one of the kitchen drawers, in a manner that indicates she's acting more out of restlessness than need.

"Well?" asks Robin when he spots them. "What's going on? What's that girl doing here?"

"We don't know," Mary says, with a sigh. "They caught us listening pretty quickly."

Robin makes a sound of annoyance, and Barbara slams the drawer back with force bordering on violence. Paul only turns to look at James with pale blue eyes and says calmly:

"But you heard something. When you answered the door?"

James relays the conversation as best he can, adding: "Not that hearing all that does any good, though, since we have no idea what they were talking about."

"They're in some sort of trouble," says Robin. "I can tell."

"I think we're in some kind of trouble," says Mary, sitting down heavily. "Don't... Don't you all feel like that?"

"Really? Do you thinks so?" asks Barbara, cocking her head to the side. "Why?"

"It's just..." Mary pauses, biting her lip, as if trying to phrase it correctly. "I feel like I should know something. Only I don't... or maybe..."

James thinks about what Will had asked Jane and about her response.

"Like you're trying to remember something?" he prompts. "Do you dream about it?"

"No," says Paul. "It's not like that. It's only a feeling, really, like you've lost something you can't remember having. Like an empty space. Right, Mary?"

Mary nods slowly, gaping at him. Behind her, Robin looks stricken, and James knows that Paul has never mentioned any of this to his twin and doesn't wonder why.

"There is something coming," Paul says quietly. "I've heard them talking, about evil and magic. About preparing for battle."

"It's just that stupid code they have," says Robin, crossing his arms. "It doesn't mean anything."

"Doesn't it?" asks James, feeling stupid even as he says it. "I mean, it's pretty obvious that something strange is going on. That girl just showing up out of nowhere? That was really weird."

"There's a lot of ways to explain that, though," said Barbara.

James knows that. Of course, he does. He's always been the realist. And yet...

"You didn't see her," he says. "The way she looked, and the way he looked at her, like... It wasn't just weird. It was weird, you know? I think maybe..."

God, he can't believe that he, stoic, pragmatic James, is really going to say this.

"...maybe they really are mixed up with something dangerous."

"And it's definitely got nothing to do with antique dealers," says Paul, nodding, and doesn't bother to explain what he means.

No one says it might be supernatural. No one says that they can feel it in the wind, see it in the approaching storm clouds. No one says, Remember that winter... No one says that, maybe, Will isn't even human anymore.

No one says I'm afraid.

And yet, James knows it's there, can see it in their stony faces and hear it in the silence that has settled over the room like a blanket of snow, smothering them. What can they say to each other, after all? They still, he reminds himself, know absolutely nothing, and everything in James strains to convince him that he can't think such fantastic things without facts, without proof. But something else...

They touched me, too, he thinks, suddenly, once.

It's nothing like what Paul described. There's nothing large missing from his memory, no unexplained emotions or dreams. Nothing like that. Only a strange, tingling feeling, like the sensory memory of having fingertips dragged every so lightly over his mind, barely a touch at all. He isn't sure what it means or why he can feel it, but somehow, it puts to death all of his desperate, hopeful doubts, and he knows that the answer he has reached, the one that the others are struggling with as well, must be correct.

If only he understood what it meant.

"So, what can we do?" asks Robin, and James can still see stubborn denial in his eyes. "If Will's in trouble, we have to help him."

"How?" Mary asks. "How can we help when we don't know what he needs help with?"

"How can we help at all?" asks Paul desolately, more to himself than anyone else.

And James can't take it anymore.

"I don't know," he says, standing. "But I'm going to find out."

As he walks out of the kitchen and down the hall, his pace brisk, James thinks that, of all of them, he is the one who should know. He is only a year older than Will. They'd attended the same school, save one year, since before he can remember. They'd shared a room for ten years, when they were children. And back then, James knew Will. He knew that Will slept on his side, with his fingers curled into a loose fist near his mouth, the only remnant of six years of thumb sucking. He knew that Will cleaned from his own bed outward, so that part of the room often looked like a black hole slowly overtaking a series of untidy stars. He knew that Will arranged his multitude of books not by author or title, but by subject and then size, like to like. He knew.

He had known.

In fact, he has no idea if Will does any of those things anymore. It's been years since the last time he's taken more than a step into Will's room. He doesn't know how Will cleans or sorts his books. He doesn't remember the last time he's seen Will asleep. It's been a long time since Will's let him in. Into his room or into his life. Why was that?

There was no falling out. James isn't even sure he can say that they grew apart. It's more like they were from different worlds, ones that intersect only superficially, like moons that orbit the same planet. And maybe he never knew Will after all. Maybe he only imagined it. It's so hard to tell, and it shouldn't be. He should know Will. He should know this.

If he has anything to say about it, he's going to.

They're still in the room, still talking, by the sound of it. From the foot of the stairs, he can hear the faint, muffled sound of Jane's voice, then another one, in a different pitch. Bran, he thinks, because Will does not speak so loudly, unless he feels the situation requires it, and those situations rarely come. James peeks into the sitting room, which is situated at the foot of the stairs, and is gratified to find it empty. Stepping inside and pressing back against the wall to hide himself from sight, he listens to the voices from overhead, waiting for them to cease, for the creak of someone coming down the stairs. If it is Bran, he thinks, it will not be incredibly hard to confront him. After all, he likes Bran. Most days. He is, he admits, intimidated by the boy sometimes, without quite knowing why, and sometimes the complete alienness of Bran, both in skin and in character, makes him uncomfortable, in spite of himself.

And if he's honest with himself, he does resent Bran sometimes, too, hating that Will would include Bran in all of this and not his own brother. That Bran knows what Will looks like when he sleeps, what he's thinking, how he feels. That he is allowed to exist on the same plane as Will, when James is not.

Still, he thinks that there is the tiniest chance that Bran will understand, that he will agree that Will needs his family, and if he does, then who better to convince Will to let them in on the secret? If he does not... If he cannot get Bran on his side, he doesn't see how they will ever be able to help.

That is, if we can help, he thinks, remembering Paul.

The voices quiet down, and he can hear the sound of someone overhead walking toward the door, pulling it open, and then they're coming down the stairs, much too slowly.

If it is Will, James does not know what he will do.

But a cursory look around the corner reveals that is only Jane, making her way down the stairs gingerly, her eyes distant, as if lost in thought. It occurs to James that she is the newest member of their group, and therefore, the weakest link. Perhaps they have even neglected to tell her that he is not to know.

He had known that his chances of convincing Bran were slim at best, but now he feels a swell of hope, thinking of this new possibility. Once she tells him, there will be no way for Will to stop them from being involved. Once they know everything, they can do anything.

So, as the girl walks past the doorway, James reaches out and grabs her by the arm, dragging her into the room. She gasps, but, seeing him, does not scream. Instead, she looks at him with wide, honest eyes full of some strange emotion that, without him knowing why, makes James' heart constrict painfully, and God, James thinks, she's just a kid.

She's just a kid, like us.

"Tell me what they told you," he says, trying to make it sound like a command and not a plea.

"I can't," Jane whispers, sounding close to tears.

"Please," he says, tightening his grip on her forearm without even meaning to. "Please, tell me what's going on."

"I don't know," she says and lets out a sob, and all of James' hope dies with it. "They won't tell me either."

xxxx

"The sword had a name," Barney had said, his knees drawn tight to his chest. "I know it had a name. I can't remember what it was. I don't know why that seems important."

"I wish I knew," he had said and brushed his fingers across the canvas, tracing the black mass eating away at the countryside.

Barney had said: "I wish I could see Will. I wish I could go ask him."

And Jane had said: "I want to know too. I want to remember."

She had said, "I wish I could go."

And then, sitting up late that night, staring into a rapidly cooling cup of tea, she had realized, with a thrill of shock, that she could go. She could see Will. She could have that chance, to know, to finally get the answer.

So, she went.

So, here she is.

Now what?

She supposes that, on some level, she came to the Stanton's home with the ridiculous belief that Will would greet her with open arms and explain everything to her right away. That he would restore her memories as a reward for her being so clever as to realize they were missing. That he would solve everything.

He has not.

Instead, he looks at her as if she is a hindrance, some kind of ghost of the past that he cannot afford to have haunting him. Like she's only in the way. She has told him countless times in these few, harrowing days that she can help him, if only he will tell her how, but he only shakes his head and, doing so, calls her bluff. And it is a bluff. She knows, from watching, from feeling, that Will and Bran are full of power and supernatural knowledge and bravery, and she knows that there's nothing she could ever do to compare, nothing she could do to help them, because she is, in the end, exactly like Will's family. Powerless. Afraid. Useless.

And in the end, she is not even as good as the Stantons are, she thinks. Her desire for knowledge is not really for Will's sake, though it might be for Barney's, and even if it were, it would still be so entirely selfish, driven by a pressing need for some kind of conformation and a sense of completion, a desire to see that in Barney, so that she can see that in herself. She knows that this is all she really wants, when she is honest with herself. Of course, she does want to know what this new danger is, but in the end, she came to Will only to discover what the old danger was, to uncover the past. What had happened in the before, not what is happening now or in the after. This new danger should not seem so irrelevant as it does. And it does.

Because she still does not remember. The dreams, now nightmares, have not stopped. In fact, they seem to be happening only more frequently, with greater intensity. She doesn't even have her younger brother's support now. She hasn't had the heart to call Barney and tell him that she hasn't gotten the information out of Will yet. In fact, he has called the Stantons several times, now. Every time, she simply runs away, slipping from the room the second she hears her name on the phone. It's too, too humiliating to have him know how close she got and how far she is still from the truth. He needs this more than she does.

She remembers the way he looked when she sat across from him in his dark room. When he spoke of the dreams, of the paintings. When he said, his voice raw with emotion, "The sword had a name." Tormented. Desperate. Like he was losing his hope. Like he was losing his mind. She had told Simon that she sometimes thought she was going mad. But she thinks of Barney and the dark circles under his eyes and the paintings that lined his room, eating up his floor space like this thing is eating up his soul.

"The sword had a name. I know it had a name, Jane. I know it did. God, it did."

She thinks maybe Barney actually is.

"If I could only remember that I could be sure. I'm not crazy. It was real...

"Wasn't it?"

God, what is she going to do?

xxxx

"Can't you talk to Will? Convince him to help me out?" she asks Bran one dusky morning, as he stands over the coffee maker, looking exhausted. "It's just—"

"Believe me," says Bran, interrupting her. "I, of all people, understand what you're going through. But I can't tell Will what to do, in this area, and if he values my perspective on the issue, he knows my opinion, already."

"Which is?" Jane wants to know, narrowing her eyes.

"Which is," says Bran, levelling his gaze at her. "That you can hardly protect people from an enemy they themselves do not understand. He disagrees, of course. We are coming at this thing from entirely different perspectives."

"Have you ever lost your memories?" Jane asks, suddenly. "Is that what you meant when you said you understood?"

Bran nods.

"How did you get them back?" Jane whispers, eagerly.

"Not in any way that you can replicate, I'm afraid. You're only a normal human, after all."

"And you aren't," Jane says, instead of asks.

"I shouldn't have said that," mutters Bran, looking back at the coffee maker and pressing a button.

"But you aren't, are you? You or Will."

He gives her a long look, then turns away with a sigh.

"You can try all you want to figure it out. You never will. I'm not sure even I understand everything, and I'm more involved than anyone."

"Except for Will?" Jane asks.

"Except for Will," says Bran, a hint of sadness in his voice. "Yes."

And that is that.

xxxx

Three days pass. Three days of long, solemn looks and silence pressing like a weight on her chest. Three days of waiting for the sun to rise over the quaint, British home of the Stanton family, all in vain. Three days of night.

Everyone is afraid, now. Everyone in the town. Maybe everyone in the world.

Maybe none of this is real.

She thinks, sometimes, that it can't be. There is no way that she can be here, that this can be happening. That she can be in this veritable stranger's home, chasing the memory of a dream. That she can be sitting her at the Stanton's kitchen table and having an old fashion breakfast with the family, as the world outside comes to an end.

Through the window, she can see nothing but the black, starless expanse of night.

It's eight in the morning.

Something rumbles outside, and Jane thinks it might be the earth itself, licking its chops for them like some great beast. Everyone freezes, and she can see the salt and pepper shakers tinkling together as the vibrations shake the house, lightly, almost gently. There is the sound like the snapping of a too-taunt robe, the shriek of a rook, then silence.

"Can someone pass the syrup?" asks Robin, his voice steady, but his face pale.

Paul passes it to him wordlessly, and as if with practiced ease, everyone turns back to their food as if nothing at all has happened. The sounds of silverware clinking and drink glasses tinkling drift through the room as Will and Bran have one of their wordless conversations over the pancakes, and god, she thinks, surely none of this is actually happening. Surely this is all a dream, a delusion, a flight of fancy. Because otherwise, how can they all just sit there as if nothing is wrong?

Why isn't someone doing something?

But she can see the way Mary's hand shakes on her glass, the way James stares out the window as he pretends to eat. The way Will's parents cannot look at him. The answer in all their faces.

"What can we do?" they say to her with their eyes, with the clicks of their forks on their porcelain plates. "What on earth can we do?

"Nothing."

They are just like she is. Just as useless as she is. And it is just as pointless, perhaps, for her to acknowledge this thing, to seek her answers. Maybe it is best to try to forget forgetting and ignore this reality. Jane wonders.

And then, suddenly, the rumbling begins again and the ground begins to shake, so fiercely that the Stantons, unable to ignore something of this magnitude, cry out, drop their silverware, and make grabs for the furniture to steady themselves. Under their hands, the table quakes, and Jane makes a frantic grab for her glass only to have it tip over. The salt and pepper shakers fall onto their sides and roll off of the table. The house creaks with the force of the quake, and Jane can hear the sound of objects in the other rooms falling and rolling, sometimes shattering.

And despite the unstable floor and the sudden rain of plaster, Will stands up solidly, clenching his fists and staring fiercely at an area somewhere over Jane's shoulder. Bran, seeing this, stands too, gripping his chair and swaying unsteadily on his feet. He looks at Will's face for a moment, and then turns, too, to face the far wall. Jane turns to see what they are looking at just in time to watch the kitchen door burst open fiercely under some great force, its panes shattering.

Jane starts with surprise and hears Mary shriek in alarm. The shakes dies down slightly and, as the plaster clears, Jane is taken aback at the sight of a dark coloured horse framed in the doorway, its rider perched solidly on its back. A rider dressed all in black. Before she can even breathe, Will is in front of her, standing between the man and his family. The horse rears in front of him, its hooves kicking fiercely at the air in front of his face, but Will does not even flinch away. When its hooves have made contact with the ground once again, Will speaks in a steady voice, sounding unsurprised and unafraid.

"What business do you have here, Rider?"

The man scoffed, tossing his head.

"Do you not even care to ask how I escaped from that agony of nonexistence to which your people banished me?"

"No," says Will, fiercely. "I do not know, nor do I care, about you, Rider. You're nothing but a pebble in my shoe. Tell me why you have come here, and then get out of my home, and leave us be!"

The Rider laughs.

"You would do well to respect me, or my message may come in a fiercer form."

"You're trying my patience, Rider!" Will says angrily, and Jane thinks he suddenly seems enormous, though she cannot pinpoint why, and it makes her shudder. "Once again, you intrude on my home! You will push me too far this time!"

"Temper, Old One," the Rider says, sounding unconcerned. "Perhaps, I merely came to see how you were faring at raising up your own army."

His eyes sweep over the occupants of the table, and he smirks.

"Not so well, I'm afraid," he says with mocking pity. "This is the Light's great resistance? A neutered prince and a bunch of your witless, mortal relatives? How pitiful."

His eyes fall on Jane, then, and suddenly, he rears back, sucking in a sharp breath.

"The girl. How?" he hisses. "This isn't possible. How could you have gotten her here? We took every precaution."

Jane crouches away as best as she can from the Rider's gaze, feeling distinctly uncomfortable. She can see Will, half turned, looking at her with an expression on unveiled astonishment. She's sure she can't have heard the Rider correctly. Her? The enemy has been trying to keep her away? Why? For what possible reason?

She almost opens her mouth to ask, but before she has even registered his movement, the Rider has dismounted and drawn his sword, and then he is rushing at her, the blade raised. In the split second before it descends on her, Jane hears Will give a shout of surprised anguish, sees the Rider's face twisted with hate and repulsion, feels a sudden rush of numbing panic. She shuts her eyes tightly just as she hears the loud sound of metal crashing against something solid.

She opens her eyes to see Bran standing over her, blocking the Rider's sword with... with a sword. A crystal sword.

"Bran," whispers Will in awed tones, obviously as surprise by the sword's appearance as everyone else.

"This isn't possible!" gasps the Rider, gripping his weapon more tightly.

Bran only raises an eyebrow, using his sword to press back against the Rider's own. The Rider growls in frustration, holding his ground.

"A stupid move," says Bran loftily. "You know you couldn't have actually hurt her with that."

"No," the Rider grits out, putting his whole strength into holding his sword against Bran's. "But your reactions have ensured that I know the girl is not an illusion. And besides, who says I would have not hurt her in a different way, had the blade connected? I am not a fool."

"Oh, I think you're very much a fool," says Bran.

He pushes more of his strength into his block and their blades disconnect as the Rider stumbles backward. Bran raises the crystal sword to point it threateningly at the man, his face impassive, and the Rider backs away further, visibly shaken, only to have Bran step forward after him.

"Give your message and leave this place, Rider, or I swear, I'll kill you like the dog you are."

The Rider laughs mockingly, but the sound sounds somehow hollow and false.

"You cannot frighten me with a threat like that. You know as well as I that an agent of the Light cannot kill an agent of the Dark."

"That's true," says Bran, and he takes a step forward, the sword steady in his grasp. "But I'm not an agent of the Light. I belong to the High Magic and no other. The laws of your struggle have no hold over me."

"I have nothing to fear from that sword," the Rider insists, his voice shaky, almost as if the one he is really trying to convince is himself.

Bran takes another step, pressing the very tip of the blade against the Rider's throat.

"Are you willing to take that bet?"

The Rider says nothing, but Jane can see the fear beginning to blossom in his eyes. Bran obviously sees it too and presses on.

"At this juncture, your fight is not with me, Rider," he says. "Unless you really wish to make it so."

"No," the Rider finally croaks out. "No, I will deliver my message."

"Very well," says Bran, and draws the sword back only a little, giving the man an expectant look.

The Rider turns slightly, still eying Bran warily, and addresses Will in a strange language that Jane does not recognize as anything she has ever known. Will narrows his eyes and replies in turn, in the same language. They speak for less than a minute, in clipped and angry sentences, obviously arguing over something. Finally, the Rider snaps something in that same language, turns and mounts his horse again with impossible grace.

"My lord," he says in English, nodding to Bran, and then as suddenly as he came, he is gone.

Bran stares after him for a moment, and then lets his arm drop, rolling his shoulders as if he has strained his back with an act so heavy. He raises his sword again and makes a motion as if he were going to sheath it. As it makes contact with the area next to his hip, Jane is startled to see that it simply disappears. Will is looking at Bran with something like wonder.

"How long?" he croaks out, his hands shaking almost imperceptibly. "How long have you had the sword?"

Bran shrugs.

"Does it matter? You know what it means that I do, and therefore, you should have been predicting it all along. I don't know why you're acting so surprised."

Will shakes his head, apparently wondering himself.

"I suppose that's true," he says defeatedly, then furrows his brow. "And yet, to bring it out like that... It seems very foolish."

"Well, there didn't really seem to be another option, you know," says Bran, the slightest hint of annoyance in his voice. "It seemed like a plan. And hey, look how well it worked."

"Could... Could you really have killed him with that thing?" Will asks, weakly.

"Don't know," says Bran nonchalantly. "But if he hadn't backed off when he did, I suppose we would have found out."

Will places his hand on the back of Paul's chair as if to steady himself and shakes his head helplessly once again.

"So, what did he tell you?" Bran asks casually, making his way back to his seat.

Will purses his lips.

"I'll tell you later," he says. "When we're in private."

Bran blinks uncomprehendingly, as if he has forgotten they are all here. Will simply motions toward the table. This is apparently the last straw for James, and the boy makes a strangled sound of rage, slams down his fork, and stomps out of the room. Will watches him go, his expression carefully neutral, his hand tightening on the back of the chair. Everyone else, Jane herself included, maintains perfect silence, unsure of quite where they should go from this.

Finally, Bran sits down slowly and clears his throat.

"Can someone pass me the eggs?"

xxxx

"You have to do this, Will. Now, it's necessary. They're afraid of her, which means that she can help us. You were there. You saw it, too."

Will sighs.

"Yes, but... Bran, I just... Merriman erased their memories for a reason."

"Yes, but it's hardly doing them any good this way, is it?" says Bran, sounding exasperated. "Erasing someone's memories only works when they don't know they've lost something. Trust me."

Jane holds her breath, watching them go back and forth, feeling a great rush of hope as she watches Will slowly crumble at Bran's words.

"You have to do this!" says Bran.

Will doesn't say anything at that, only stares at Bran with solemn eyes. Bran looks right back, his head cocked in challenge. Finally, Will steps forward slightly and brushes his fingers lightly over Bran's hip, over the spot from which the boy had pulled the crystal sword earlier this morning. His eyes are hooded, as if he is thinking deeply.

"Are you speaking as the Pendragon or as yourself? I can't tell."

Bran sighs and cups the hand on his hip for a moment before pushing it away gently.

"Everything I say I say as the Pendragon," he says. "It's what I am. You know that. And you know I'm right."

After a moment, Will nods.

"Yes," he says sadly. "Yes, I know."

And before she knows it, Jane finds herself standing in front of him, her heart pounding in her chest as he regards her grimly.

"I'd hoped to avoid this," he says, surprisingly gently. "And I hope you realize that I didn't want to hurt you, Jane. This situation is more complicated than you can understand. I had to consider a lot of factors. Perhaps, I am making the wrong decision. I don't know. But please know that I've only ever meant the best for you."

And in spite of herself, she believes him.

"Will," Bran says softly. "You're scaring her."

"Sorry," says Will, smiling at her sheepishly, almost like the teenager he is meant to be. "I'm just... unsure."

He casts a questioning look at Bran, and the other boy levels him with a stern look and nods, crossing his arms. Jane has that feeling, once again, that they are having a conversation she cannot hear, and after a moment, Will sighs and turns to face Jane, his face strangely open. She can feel, in her own mind, his reluctance and his pity, his struggle between what he should do and what he truly wants to do. His desire to do what is best for the world and his desire to keep her from pain. Suddenly, she realizes with perfect clarity that she is reading Will like this because he is reading her in turn, that he has taken down the barrier between their minds, and wonders, absurdly, if this is what it's like to be Bran all the time.

And then it begins. She can feel Will shift something in her mind, loose one small, weightless thing, and memories start to return in a trickle, one by one sliding into place. A menacing figure among the Trewissick standing stones; speaking of King Arthur and his coming return; the Greenwitch, looking her right in the eyes. The trickle becomes a flood, and she can only clutch at the table, gasping for breath, as a deluge of memories rush back into her mind, forceful and unforgiving, seeking their proper place in her consciousness. It's all happening so fast, too fast, and suddenly, she remembers.

The opening of the Lost Land, the dove that was the mistletoe, ghosts in Trewissick, the crystal sword, rushing toward the building storm, Eirias flashing through the air, the world screaming, screaming, and JaneJanaJunoJane...

"Jane," Will whispers, and she blinks at him uncomprehending for a moment, then nods, unable to form words.

Over his shoulder, she can see Bran standing very still, his expression hidden behind his glasses, his fingers digging into his own forearms.

"Thank you," she manages, huskily, and still disoriented, struggles to stand. "I need to..."

As she stumbles out of the room and down the stairs, she can hear Bran speak, his voice gentle and comforting, and is glad, somehow, for their sakes that she cannot make out the words. Finally making her way to the phone, she dials her younger brother's number automatically and is not surprised when if picks up after only two rings.

"Barney..." she gasps out, and stops. Now, after everything, she simply doesn't know what to say.

"Jane? Jane, what is it?"

She wants to tell him everything, about the Lady and the Dark and the Old Ones, all the great secrets they once learned and were made to forget, but the revelations all stick in her throat, and she can only whisper, heart pounding:

"The sword's name is Eirias."

Barney exhales a weak, shaking breath.

"Yes."