A/N: This idea has been stirring in the back of my mind for at least a year now, yet being apprehensive about the idea, I've just never written it down. But with the release of the final book looming ever closer, I figured I should just get it off my chest so the idea doesn't haunt me anymore.
Anyway, I seriously doubt that this is how Soldiers of Halla with end, but I hope you enjoy the fic anyhow.
Bobby gazed around at the scattered debris: building wreckage, shards of weapons, uprooted trees, spots of blood . . . the extent of the damage seemed endless, stretching out miles beyond what his eyes could see. He was up to his knees, literally and mentally, in destruction.
And despite all this, he smiled.
Because it was over. Truly over. No more wars. No more battles. No more fluming wildly through time and space cleaning up one mess after another. Saint Dane and all he had worked to create and destroy were done with.
At last, all of Halla was as it should be.
He turned. Loor stood there. Her clothes were ripped, her hair tangled. She was covered in soot, dirt, blood, and fatigue, but she had never looked more strong or beautiful. The fact that it was the first time she had ever used his given name didn't register in his mind until she took his soiled hand in her own unclean fingers.
"We're done, Loor," he said, still hardly daring to believe it.
"I know," she said benignly, but then smiled.
He smiled too.
"So, what do you plan to do now?" she asked.
Bobby cast his eyes over the devastation of the area. It was all over. The past four years of his life (it felt like so much longer than just that) had revolved fighting the war for all of Halla – but that was done with. What was he to do with his life now? The future seemed to stretch out in a vast, endless expanse like the night sky, all the possibilities winking at him like glorious, glittering stars.
He grinned crookedly as he shifted his gaze back to Loor. "I don't know about the rest of my life, but right now, I'm going to get some serious shut-eye. God, I mean, I can't remember the last time I slept properly."
"Bobby, it's time to get up!"
Bobby grunted and rolled over.
"Come on, lazy head, today's a big day!"
He pulled the bedcovers up to his chin, still refusing to open his eyes. Big day or not, he was exhausted. A few more minutes spent snoozing wouldn't kill anyone.
A huge weight landed on top of his legs, scrambling upward, before settling on his chest. Then something very wet entered his ear.
"Alright, alright, I'm up," Bobby grumbled, shoving away whatever the weight was as he pried his eyelids apart.
He became instantly winded.
The sudden lack of breath wasn't a delayed reaction to the heavy thing on top of him. It was from surprise. Disbelief. A gripping, choking, strangling shock to his senses.
This wasn't the room he had fallen asleep in. No, far from it.
I'm still dreaming, he told himself, calming down. Dreams can be cruel, but they aren't real. I just need to wake up now and everything will be as it was.
He tried to pull himself away from the dream – it's not real, not real, I want to wake up now, wake up, Pendragon – but, as is often the case, he could not, despite knowing that it was all a dream. He remained steadfastly asleep. He remained dreaming.
I want to wake up.
It still wasn't working. He was still in his old bedroom, his bedroom from his home on Second Earth. His home that didn't exist anymore.
Marley – the weight that had been pressing down on his body, he realized now – gave him a doggy-grin, her eyes sparkling, her pink tongue lolling out of the side her mouth.
The door opened and Shannon peeked her face in, looking every bit as his distant memories remembered her: eight years old, brown pig-tails, solemn eyes.
"If you don't get up soon, you're not going to have time to eat breakfast before you go to school," she stated matter-of-factly. "And since this evening is the county semifinals, you should get a good start to your day by eating early in the morning, otherwise you'll be hungry all day and won't have as much energy for the game."
With that, she pulled away and shut the door.
The choking shock was shifting into choking anguish, pain; this dream was becoming more of a nightmare every second. Being back here, forced to revisit his past, made to see what he had lost . . . ache and longing grabbed at his chest in a brutal massage, twisting and tugging at emotions stashed deep within him.
Maybe if he went along with the dream for a while, it would eventually leave him . . .
It was a feeble plan, but as his former plan of just telling himself to awaken was not working at all, it was the best he could do. He rolled out of bed, grabbed some mildly clean clothes from the floor, and stumbled for the bathroom. He put the clothes on the counter and flicked on the light, glancing absently into the mirror as he did so.
He froze at the sight he saw there.
His reflection stared back at him, as it should when looking at one's reflection in a mirror.
But it was his old reflection. His reflection of four years ago.
Bobby Pendragon was fourteen years old again.
Relax, it's all part of the dream, he thought to himself.
But then a new thought occurred to him, one that nearly left him paralyzed on his tiled bathroom floor:
What if this was no dream?
"Bobby!" His mother's voice. "Are you even out of bed yet? Don't make me come up there and get you!"
With shaking hands, Bobby stripped off his clothes and turned on the shower, then stepped into the tub. The water struck his body in vicious pellets, and though its temperature was hot, he found himself shivering under the steady stream.
Flumes – Travelers – Saint Dane – territories – rings – journals – the countless lives – the countless deaths – the sacrifices and gains for the sake of war. . . .
There was no way he could have dreamed all that.
Still, the thoughts remained:
What if this was reality?
What if Halla had been the dream?
Mark greeted him as casually as ever when they saw each other at school that morning. He, too, was fourteen years old again, loose-limbed and awkward, but still grinning, still Mark. Pre-acolyte Mark, that was.
"It's good to see you," said Bobby in a constricted voice.
If Mark found this a strange greeting from someone he had last seen less than twenty-four hours ago at school the previous day, he didn't show it, and instead began to talk about some new video game.
As their English teacher droned on, Courtney turned around in her seat. "Hey," she whispered to him, "you have a spare pencil?"
Her gray eyes, as lovely and captivating as ever, hooked on his. He became lost in them for a minute, simultaneously cherishing their beauty and noting the absence of the age, the hurt, the maturity that had later appeared in that storm-cloud gaze of hers. Or, at least, the age, hurt, and maturity that had appeared in his dream.
His dream. It was still such a strange word to associate with it all . . . to think that it hadn't really happened . . . but it hadn't, and he needed to get over that.
"Anyone home?" Courtney asked in quiet, playful tones, wiggling her fingers in front of his face.
"Uh. Yeah. Sorry."
He took a pencil from his binder and handed it to her.
"Thanks," she said with a grin, and faced forward again.
Bobby went through his day in a daze. His school classes, his friends, lunch, passing periods, the bus ride home, homework, a snack, playing with Marley – all of this blurred past in a strange, incomprehensible blur.
He went through the motions of his day without knowing what he was doing.
The truth was simply too hard to absorb.
Which was ridiculous, when he thought about it. Surely accepting that all of that had been a dream was easier than accepting this as being a dream? Being able to flume through time and space went against all laws, all notions, all concepts of reality.
This day, on the other hand, was the epitome of normal. This day on Second Earth made perfect sense.
No, not Second Earth, he reminded himself. Earth. Just Earth.
It was time to head to the evening county semifinals basketball game.
Only unlike last time – unlike his dream – this time he was actually going to attend the game.
Bobby slung his pack over his shoulder, moved towards the front door, and pushed it open.
Courtney Chetwynde stood on his front porch.
Bobby nearly lost it right then and there at how familiar all of this was. He managed to keep himself together, but only by a few threads.
"Yo," he said, realizing as the word left his mouth how closely he was mirroring his dream.
"Hi," she replied.
It was chilly out, so he invited her inside. They began a light conversation then, but, his nerves being in the extremely fragile and tense state that they were, he wasn't able to focus on the words either of them were saying, wasn't able to focus on what came from either her or his mouth.
Until her mouth was against his, that was.
She kissed him, and he kissed back, putting one hand in her hair and the other on her back. And in that moment, all thoughts of flumes and territories and battles were put far away into the back of his mind. None of that was true, none of this Halla he had dreamed up was real, but this, here, now, was real; he clung to her tighter, getting lost in the moment. This was tangible, authentic, truth, the texture of her hair, the taste of her lips, the warmth of her skin; this was reality, and after feeling as though he had lost reality for so long, he wanted nothing more than to clutch at this moment – as real a moment as they come – forever.
Startled, he pulled away from her; she did likewise, flaming red at the fact that they had been discovered.
"I . . . uh . . . I better go," Courtney managed to sputter through her humiliation.
"No, don't go," said Bobby; he was beginning to feel as though he was sinking again, losing reality, and if she left, his sense of truth from imaginary might abandon him completely –
"Yes," said their intruder stoically, "you should go."
Courtney, so eager to make her exit, rammed straight into the door; the intruder opened it for her, and she darted away, wishing Bobby luck at tonight's game.
The sound the door made when it closed reverberated extraordinarily loud in Bobby's ears as he stared at the new arrival.
"I'm sorry, Bobby, but I need your help," said Uncle Press. "I need you to come with me."
A/N: Dreams, or reality? I leave it up to you to decide.
Some of the dialogue from the final scene was taken directly from the opening pages of Merchant of Death, and those lines do not belong to me.