Faces in the dark

"Charlie…put that light out. It's getting late." Amy Bone's voice drifted in from the upstairs landing.

"Just five more minutes, Mum, please!" Charlie was lost in a book he had borrowed from Miss Ingledew- a history of the time the Red King spent with Mathonwy, his ancestor. The crabbed print would have sent any other reader to sleep, but for Charlie, stories about his ancestors and their lives were fascinating. He supposed he inherited that from his Uncle Paton.

He turned the page, eyes opening in wonder at a glorious engraving of the Red King with his three leopards- and jumped as a small photo fell out. Someone had been using it as a bookmark. He recognised it- it was a photo Emma had taken of him and Olivia in the ruin at Bloor's, a few months ago. He smiled at Olivia's crazy hair- mousy brown highlighted with random streaks of purple. He leaned forward, and the room around him began to blur. He could feel a crisp autumn breeze on his face, and the voices of himself and his friends began to echo in his ears…

"Stop laughing, you two! I'm trying to take a picture!"

"Sorry Em! We'll behave now, won't we Charlie?"

"Yep! See, Em, nothing to worry about."

"Apart from your ridiculous moustaches…Olivia, stop it!"

She giggled. "Sorry. I was just trying to lighten the mood." The moustaches vanished. "You're looking so serious, Em. What's my endowment for, if not for making you laugh?"

"More important things…Smile!" A camera flashed. "There…shall I take another?"

"You can get more than one printed, can't you? I'd like a copy."

"What about you, Charlie? Do you want one?"

"Yeah, sure. I'd love one."

Did he just say love?

Olivia's voice echoed around his head. Charlie blinked, the mist around him clearing. She hadn't said that, had she? He was sure she hadn't. He remembered hearing people's thoughts once before, when he had looked at a photo of Billy Raven's parents…but it only ever seemed to happen when people were thinking something particularly strongly. He hadn't heard any of his friend's thoughts before, so what could that mean? He slipped the photo back into the pages, closed the book, and turned off the light.

Maybe Uncle Paton will have some kind of information about it…he thought, as he fell into a puzzled sleep.

In her bedroom on the other side of the city, Olivia Vertigo was still wide awake. She had been studying from a book about method acting, lent to her by the drama department at Bloor's, and had been just about to turn off the light when she saw Charlie Bone's head floating above the open pages. Olivia had some vague knowledge about how Charlie's endowment worked, but he had never said anything to her about who saw his face when he was travelling.

It's just your imagination, she told herself crossly. You've been thinking about him too much, and now you're doing illusions on yourself, or something. She sighed, and reached over to close the book, hoping to trap the unruly face in its pages, but Charlie's head was now mouthing something. It looked like "Olivia?"- but she couldn't be certain- she couldn't hear anything. "Charlie?" she whispered. He seemed to smile, but he wasn't looking at her- and then the face flickered, and vanished.

Stupid, stupid, stupid. Olivia turned off the light and stared up at the shadows on her ceiling, tears beginning to prick under her eyelids. What had Em said to her, when she had first told her how much Charlie really affected her? She had cried, she knew that, and Emma had been worried about her dramatic friend and the way she seemed to feel some things a lot deeper than the rest of them did. Olivia couldn't remember the exact words, but it had been something sympathetic and sorrowful- much the same as how she had comforted Emma herself after everything that had happened with Tancred.

She closed her eyes, trying to forget how comforting the sight of Charlie had been- and settled into an uneasy sleep. Outside her window, three cats- one bright yellow, one flaming orange, and one of burnished copper- watched over this unhappy child of their master, and wished, in their own way (and wishing was never far from reality when it came to the Flames) that things might turn out right, for the tired hearts of all Children of the Red King.

Olivia's dreams drifted into something like sunlight, and over on the other side of the city, a smile spread over Charlie's face while he slept. And the steady passage of time over this most ancient of cities was acknowledged, in the green glint of three watchful pairs of eyes, and the sound of the cathedral clock striking midnight.